The Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI are investigating allegations that some LAPD narcotics officers stole drug money while participating in narcotics raids with sheriff's deputies who have been implicated in a massive money-skimming scandal, authorities said Monday.
The bulk of the allegations against the LAPD officers come from FBI interviews with former Sheriff's Sgt. Robert R. Sobel, who alleges that the officers and deputies beat drug suspects, filed false police reports, lied to a grand jury and stole money and valuables from narcotics suspects.
Sobel, the chief prosecution witness against nine indicted deputies in the money-skimming case, has pleaded guilty to stealing $1.4 million in seized money and has agreed to testify against fellow members of a major sheriff's narcotics team.
But Sobel told FBI investigators that he was involved in thefts even before he joined that narcotics crew, and he implicated other officers in wrongdoing dating back to 1985, according to court records.
Sobel alleged that members of the Southwest task force--which included deputies and LAPD officers--planted cocaine on drug suspects, beat up others and stole a gun, a mobile phone, a glass sculpture and tens of thousands of dollars in 1986 and 1987, court records said.
Police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth declined to talk about Sobel's interviews but he confirmed that "top echelon" FBI officials have met with Police Chief Daryl F. Gates to discuss allegations against LAPD narcotics officers.
"We are continuing to investigate along with the FBI, and we are conducting our own investigation," said Booth, who added that no LAPD officer has been relieved of duty or disciplined in the case.
Booth declined to state how many officers were under investigation and declined to identify them. But sources close to the investigation said the conduct of at least four officers is being scrutinized.
Undersheriff Robert Edmonds also refused to discuss Sobel's allegations, but he said his office is continuing to investigate.
"We are taking those allegations very seriously," he said.
The Times reported earlier that Sobel was the central figure in the federal government's ongoing investigation and had provided information about possible corruption among narcotics officers in the 8,000-member Sheriff's Department.
The Times also reported that one police narcotics officer was involved with some of the indicted deputies in a drug case that was thrown out last April because of allegations of tainted evidence. But the court records and Booth's statement provide the first confirmation and detailed allegations against narcotics officers in the 8,400-member Police Department.
Sobel claimed in interviews with federal agents that he and other members of a major sheriff's narcotics team had participated in a series of thefts in 1988 and 1989. But he also alleged, according to court documents, that he and other narcotics officers were stealing drug money several years earlier.
Among the allegations:
* That in 1985, the Lennox station narcotics crew headed by Sobel served a warrant at a West Hollywood residence and stole $5,000.
* That in 1985, Lennox crew members seized money during a narcotics raid in a Paramount house and placed about $2,000 in a "kitty" that officers used to buy weapons and other items.
* That in 1986, as members of a Southwest task force, narcotics officers served a search warrant on a Beverly Hills man and stole about $100,000 with nearly one-fourth of that amount going to Sobel as his share.
The allegations were contained in documents filed by defense attorneys for the indicted deputies. The documents described statements that Sobel made to federal investigators last year and that were provided to defense attorneys as part of the discovery process.
Defense attorneys submitted Sobel's statements to show that more time was needed to prepare for trial, set to begin next Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The defense motion for a 30-day delay, however, was rejected Monday.
Mark Beck, Sobel's attorney, would not comment on the specifics of his client's statements but said he was confident Sobel's assertions will be supported by other evidence.
"I think it's going to take the lid off corruption in the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department and that's why this case is as important as it is," Beck said. "He certainly didn't dream it up or institute it. He merely participated in this."
Sobel, who was indicted and pleaded guilty, awaits sentencing.
Federal prosecutors said they had no comment on the Sobel interviews, but some defense attorneys for the nine indicted sheriff's deputies said the disclosures could prove harmful to both Sobel and the government's case.
"We're talking about activities by Sobel prior to his joining majors (narcotics), and we think that's absolutely critical to a juror's assessment of his credibility," said Jay Lichtman, an attorney for Deputy Ronald E. Daub.
In addition to Daub, the other deputies who face criminal charges are Terrell H. Amers, James R. Bauder, Nancy A. Brown, Eufrasio G. Cortez, John C. Dickenson, Michael J. Kaliterna, Daniel M. Garner and Macario Duran and his wife, Maria. All have pleaded not guilty.
It is uncertain how the government will proceed with the case against Brown and Kaliterna.
After ruling earlier that prosecutors could not use information obtained in a search warrant against the two deputies, U.S. District Judge Edward R. Rafeedie rejected Monday the government's request to sever their trial from the others.
Rafeedie had ruled last August that investigators lacked sufficient cause to search the homes of Kaliterna and Brown and could not use any evidence found there. Prosecutors reported that marked money from an FBI sting had been found in the residences.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Eglash told Rafeedie on Monday that the "sting money" was "the best proof" corroborating Sobel's statements against Kaliterna and Brown. Without it, he said, prosecutors would be left only with Sobel's testimony.
Eglash said prosecutors will ask the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Rafeedie's ruling.