Former DEA Agent, Now a Fugitive, Seen in L.A.
A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent wanted as a fugitive in a major drug corruption probe may still be hiding in the Los Angeles area pretending to be an active undercover agent, law enforcement sources said Thursday.
The DEA and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles have alerted all local law enforcement agencies that ex-agent Darnell Garcia--a fugitive since late November and once thought to have fled to Spain--was observed in North Hollywood posing as an undercover agent on Jan. 6.
Officials also disclosed Thursday that Garcia, carrying a 9-millimeter pistol, may also have posed as an active DEA agent in October during a bizarre incident in which he allegedly persuaded two Los Angeles police officers to accompany him as “backup” in a hunt for a man he identified as a “suspect” in the North Hollywood area.
Police said Thursday they had no idea what Garcia’s motives might have been in enlisting police help for an alleged manhunt in October, or why he would have been in a parked car in the same area recently.
Garcia, 42, a former black belt karate champion who resigned from the drug agency last year while under investigation for money laundering and cocaine dealing, has described himself as “a legend in his own time.” Before vanishing in November, he had often taunted surveillance agents who were following him.
According to LAPD officials, the most recent of the two incidents took place on the night of Jan. 6, when a man matching Garcia’s description was seen sitting in the passenger’s seat of a late model blue Ford LTD at the corner of Lankershim and Victory boulevards.
Cmdr. William Booth, LAPD’s chief spokesman, said a Los Angeles patrol officer in the area was alerted by a traffic control officer that he had been treated rudely by two men who identified themselves as federal agents when questioned why they were parked in a red zone at the intersection.
‘Ran the License Plate’
“Our officer said to himself that he couldn’t recall any roll call information about a federal drug stakeout in the area,” Booth said. “So he slowly approached and ran the license plate on the car, finding that it was registered to a federal agent.
“The officer drove by and one occupant flashed him a hand sign indicating he was a police officer and a badge that looked like either DEA or Customs,” Booth said. The spokesman blamed computer error for the officers being unable to determine that the license plate was registered to a car owned by Garcia.
The Jan. 6 incident, according to Booth, was not linked to Garcia until the next day during roll call at the North Hollywood station, when the same patrol officer saw Garcia’s picture and the same license number on a fugitive poster.
Both the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued advisories on the incident. The sheriff’s advisory included an account by the DEA and the U.S. attorney’s office of the earlier incident when Garcia allegedly walked into the LAPD’s North Hollywood station posing as an active agent.
‘Asked for Backup’
“At that time (in October), he identified himself as federal narcotics agent Acuna of the DEA, displayed credentials and asked for backup while he searched an apartment for a suspect,” the sheriff’s advisory said. “Officers accompanied Garcia to an apartment on Victory Boulevard, but no suspect was found.”
According to the sheriff’s advisory, Garcia was carrying a pistol in a shoulder holster on the night of his alleged joint manhunt with the LAPD. Booth was cautious in confirming the earlier incident, however, saying that the identification later made of Garcia was more tentative than the one on Jan. 6.
“A couple officers did roll on a call with someone posing as a DEA agent,” Booth said. “They assisted him as he went to the apartment. The suspect was not there, but he did talk to a lady there for a few minutes before everybody left. Later, the officers said he ‘kind of’ looked like Garcia.”
Federal officials, banned from discussing the case by a federal judge, had no comment Thursday. According to police sources, the license plate on the blue Ford LTD seen Jan. 6 was 2FVS140. That is the same number of the license of a red 1987 Ford Bronco II in which Garcia was last seen Nov. 22 while eluding federal surveillance agents.
Also charged with tax violations in the DEA corruption case are former agents John Jackson, 39, of Claremont, and Wayne Countryman, 45, of Walnut. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Federal officials have said repeatedly that additional charges of drug dealing will ultimately be added in the case.