The case of seven Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accused of skimming $1.4 million in drug money went to a federal court jury Thursday with a prosecutor calling them corrupt, and the defense saying the government used unreliable witnesses.
The Los Angeles trial lasted seven weeks and focused the spotlight on a scandal that embarrassed the Sheriff’s Department in the nation’s most populous county and its chief, Sheriff Sherman Block.
“With all the power the government has, they have not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt,” defense attorney Harland Braun told jurors. “And that is because the defendants are innocent.”
Braun, who represents former Deputy Daniel Garner, pointed the blame at Robert Sobel, the government’s star witness against the deputies and the former chief of the elite narcotics squad called Major Violators II.
Braun portrayed the former Sheriff’s Department sergeant as a thug and a liar.
“Sobel is worthless,” Braun told the jury. “It would demean our history, our jury system if you based a verdict on someone like Robert Sobel.”
The seven defendants, Garner, Terrell Amers, James Bauder, Eufrasio Cortez, Ronald Daub, John Dickenson and Macario Duran are charged with conspiracy, theft, racketeering, tax fraud and money laundering.
Braun criticized prosecutors for using drug suspects as witnesses and said testimony had shown that the government operated its own undercover money-laundering operation, returning drug profits to the Colombians supplying the illegal product.
In rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas A. Hagemann said, ‘There are some things the government does that aren’t very pretty. . . . But it’s done according to the book and approved at the highest level of government. Washington says OK because it’s a drug war and there are benefits. So there is an undercover money-laundering operation.”
As for the drug suspects, he said the government did not choose them as witnesses. He said the defendants caused such people to become witnesses in the case by allegedly stealing money from them.
During the trial, the deputies testified that they made luxury purchases of boats, cars and vacations by legitimate means, with money obtained from savings, relatives, overtime work, legal gambling and yard sales.
“These are the defenses of wishful thinking,” Hagemann said of the deputies’ evidence, “a defense made up of nonsense.”
The prosecutor pointed to the men’s “outlandish expenditures” for luxury items during the 15 months the skimming allegedly occurred and said their guilt had been proved.
“This is a case about trust and the people that we entrust,” he said. “In 1988 and ’89, these deputy sheriffs could not be trusted.”
U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie spent an hour giving jurors instructions in the law and ordered them to begin their deliberations this morning.