Six Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were convicted Monday of conspiring to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug traffickers and money launderers in one of the biggest corruption scandals in local law enforcement history.
The veteran narcotics officers, who worked together on an elite team investigating major drug cases, were convicted on 24 criminal charges involving money seized during drug raids. The jury rendered the verdicts on its seventh day of deliberations.
The seven-man, five-woman jury convicted the officers of various charges, including conspiracy, theft, money-laundering, racketeering and tax evasion. The deputies were acquitted on three separate theft counts. A seventh narcotics deputy was also convicted of depositing funds in a way to evade bank reporting requirements and conceal their source.
Facing prison terms of up to 53 years, the deputies are scheduled for sentencing in January and February.
The deputies expressed little emotion as U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie read the unanimous verdicts and then declared a mistrial on 26 additional charges on which the jury was deadlocked. As the defendants walked from the federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, they appeared stunned.
“I’m disappointed with the verdict,” said Deputy James R. Bauder. “I’m sure the jury did the best job they could, but we’re disappointed.”
Attorneys for some of the deputies said their clients would have no comment because of a gag order imposed earlier in the trial.
“I’m just floored by the conviction of (Terrell H.) Terry Amers,” said his attorney, Paul R. Depasquale, “and I have no further comment.”
The other deputies convicted were Ronald E. Daub, Eufrasio G. Cortez, John C. Dickenson, Macario M. Duran and Daniel M. Garner. All except Duran had worked on the same drug investigation team known as Majors II. Only Duran escaped a conspiracy conviction.
Although the prosecution alleged that the deputies stole more than $1.4 million during drug raids in 1988 and 1989, the jury found six guilty of skimming only $48,000--the amount taken during a video-taped FBI sting operation.
“I think the verdicts speak for themselves. It is our position . . . that jury’s verdicts reflect that the jury accepted the allegations in the indictment that there was corruption in Majors II,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey C. Eglash, one of the co-prosecutors.
There was little jubilation among prosecutors and sheriff’s officials who had spent more than two years investigating the massive case that rocked the nation’s largest sheriff’s department. The scandal led to the dismantling of anti-drug teams, the transfers of dozens of narcotics officers and a series of ongoing probes that has spread from the Sheriff’s Department to the Los Angeles Police Department.
More than 30 criminal cases were dismissed, were subjects of plea bargains, or are under review as a result of the corruption scandal.
“The verdicts handed down today are not an occasion to celebrate, they are not a victory,” Sheriff Sherman Block said in a statement. “They are the just conclusion to the unlawful actions of a few who sought to hide their crimes behind a badge of honor.”
The convicted deputies included some of the department’s most decorated and experienced. Among the defendants were a medal of valor winner who was wounded in a vain attempt to save his partner; a deputy who was the recipient of the California narcotics officer-of-the-year award, and a second-generation deputy whose father served as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.
Some jurors said it was disturbing to see law enforcement officers turn to corruption, using stolen money to buy such luxuries as cars, boats, jewelry and vacation homes. After the seven-week trial they said they were persuaded to convict:
* Cortez, 39, on six counts including conspiracy, theft, tax evasion and money-laundering. A 15-year department veteran, Cortez was once honored by the California Narcotics Officers Assn. as a top drug officer in the state. He faces 53 years in prison.
* Daub, 39, on six counts of conspiracy, theft, tax evasion and structuring financial transactions to evade bank reporting requirements. A 17-year department veteran, he faces 48 years in prison.
* Garner, 44, for three counts of conspiracy, theft and tax evasion. Hired as a sheriff’s officer in 1971, he faces 18 years in prison.
* Bauder, 32, for conspiracy, theft and tax evasion. A 10-year department veteran and second-generation sheriff’s deputy, Bauder’s father had retired as a lieutenant in the narcotics bureau. He faces 18 years in prison.
* Amers, 47, for conspiracy, theft and tax evasion. With 23 years of service, Amers was the most experienced of the deputies. He faces 18 years in prison.
* Dickenson, 32, for conspiracy and theft. An 11-year veteran, Dickenson won the Medal of Valor in 1988 for attempting to save his mortally wounded partner during a shoot-out with a drug suspect. He faces 15 years in prison.
* Duran, 44, for a single count of structuring currency transactions to evade reporting requirements. While prosecutors claim he was hiding stolen drug money, Duran said he and his wife had actually skimmed money from her beauty shop and had failed to report it to the Internal Revenue Service.
Duran faces a five-year prison term on that conviction. The jury could not reach a verdict on whether the 14-year department veteran had conspired with the others to steal money during drug raids.
With the exception of Duran, all the deputies on trial were convicted of a single theft charge--the stealing of $48,000 during an August, 1989, sting that was conducted by FBI undercover officers to snare the narcotics officers.
During the trial, prosecutors played a videotape of the sting, showing Bauder and Garner entering the hotel room of an FBI agent, who was posing as a money launderer, and taking bundles of cash from a bag.
Two days after the operation, hundreds of federal and local agents, armed with warrants, raided the deputies’ homes and offices. Authorities discovered marked bills from the sting at the houses of four deputies.
In interviews at the courthouse, jurors told The Times that they considered the videotape damning evidence against the deputies. Also crucial, according to the jurors, was a tape recording secretly made of the deputies by the government’s chief witness--former Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert R. Sobel, who cooperated in exchange for a reduced sentence.
All but one of the indicted deputies had worked for Sobel on the Majors II anti-drug team, a squad responsible for some of the department’s largest cocaine and money seizures.
In agreeing to testify, Sobel was allowed to plead guilty to single counts of conspiracy and filing a false tax return. Prosecutors also dropped five theft charges against him and shaved his maximum possible prison sentence from 58 years to eight. He is awaiting sentencing.
As the key witness against the deputies, the 45-year-old Sobel spent three days detailing how he and his crew members skimmed money, beat drug suspects and then lied in official reports to cover up the misconduct.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys and their clients had sought to portray Sobel as an admitted liar and thief--traits he possessed long before he joined the defendants as their supervisor.
In addition to the tapes, the prosecution presented 155 witnesses and more than 1,000 pieces of evidence including the defendant’s financial records to try to link the stolen drug money to a torrent of cash purchases.
Prosecutors took jurors painstakingly through bank records, sales receipts, escrow papers and detailed charts to show that the deputies were spending far in excess of their department paychecks.
Some of the deputies had been buoyed by the weeklong jury deliberations, believing the longer the panel was out, the better their chances for acquittal. But at 11:08 a.m., when the verdicts came in, their demeanor turned somber.
Immediately after the verdict, Rafeedie set separate sentencing dates for each deputy beginning in January. All remain free on bail despite prosecutors’ attempts to have Bauder, Garner and Cortez jailed. Although prosecutors described as them as flight risks, Rafeedie rejected the argument.
The closely watched trial was the first of three scheduled in federal court for defendants linked to the money-skimming scandal. Two other narcotics deputies--Nancy A. Brown and Michael J. Kaliterna--are slated to stand trial early next year. Another trial involving Duran, his wife and his mother is scheduled to begin next February, attorneys said.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury has been investigating other sheriff’s deputies and several Police Department narcotics officers for allegations that surfaced during the money-skimming probe, including accusations of thefts, beatings and the planting of drugs on suspects during raids.
Monday’s verdict had been anticipated by many as a barometer of how successful the prosecution would be in pursing a criminal case against veteran officers who have staunchly proclaimed their innocence.
Prosecutors had contended that the deputies routinely stole money from drug dealers and money launderers after first detaining the suspects during narcotics raids.
According to prosecutors, the deputies would stop a money courier or drug trafficker and ask the suspect to sign a disclaimer waiving any ownership of the money. Then, they would skim some of the cash before the money arrived in the evidence room at the Sheriff’s Department’s narcotics headquarters in Whittier.
While most of the forfeited money would be turned over to the department, some of the cash would be stolen and divided among the deputies, prosecutors said.
In one case, Cortez, Garner and Amers were accused of stealing $527,000 during a 1988 raid. They were acquitted on that charge by jurors who said they found it difficult to believe the testimony of the drug dealer who said that he was victimized by the theft.
Eglash added that prosecutors would decide later whether to retry the deputies on the remaining charges.
The convictions are expected to spur prosecutors in other related trials.
The trials of Brown and Kaliterna were severed from the others in a legal dispute over whether evidence obtained during a search of their homes and cars--including money that prosecutors claim is linked to the videotaped sting--could be used against them.
Leonard Levine, who represents Kaliterna, did not believe Monday’s convictions would force some of the deputies to testify against his client.
“Throughout the trial they have been pressured to cooperate and they have resisted because they were innocent. I don’t think their feelings are going to change any because of the verdict,” Levine said.