An ex-Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, testifying in the money-skimming trial of two former narcotics officers, said Friday that he kept his cooperation with the government secret because he feared other deputies involved in the corruption scandal would harm him.
Virgil Bartlett, who secretly taped months of telephone conversations with fellow deputies for the government, told a federal jury that he began assisting investigators in December, 1990, but was fearful that word of his cooperation would lead to retaliation.
Bartlett did not indicate whether he had received threats, and he said he did not feel at risk from the two deputies on trial--Tyrone Powe and Robert Juarez. But Bartlett said he feared other deputies on the elite anti-drug teams that have been the targets of an ongoing corruption investigation.
Bartlett named ex-Deputy Daniel M. Garner, who pleaded guilty last month to theft and tax charges and was convicted in 1990 on money-skimming charges, as the person he feared most. He also said he was worried about retribution from friends of Garner, whose wife, Yhvona, is a defendant in the case.
"(I was) just afraid for my safety and my family's safety," Bartlett said.
Assistant U. S. Atty. Sean Berry did not elaborate on Bartlett's comments, and he declined comment on whether any special security precautions had been taken to protect Bartlett.
Attorneys for Powe and Juarez challenged Bartlett's assertions. Powe's attorney, Joel Levine, asked why Bartlett offered to give his client his home phone number and address if he felt in danger. And Juarez's attorney, Terry Amdur, said Bartlett had more reason to worry about his admissions that he skimmed money from drug suspects and lied in court to help convict them.
"If I were Bartlett, I would be afraid of a few of those guys," Amdur said outside the courtroom. "I don't think I'd be worried about the sheriff's deputies."
Alan Rubin, an attorney for Garner, also said he knew of no basis for Bartlett to fear his client, who has been in prison since last year. "There nothing to it," Rubin said. "There's not a shred of evidence for it."
Bartlett, completing two days on the stand, stuck to his testimony that he and other narcotics officers had skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money, planted cocaine to justify a search warrant in one case and had perjured themselves to convict drug dealers and hide their money-skimming.
Defense attorneys, however, underscored Bartlett's admission that he has lied in the past and questioned his accounts of alleged thefts in 1986 and 1987.
They also pressed him about the amounts of money he said were stolen in each case and pointed to differing versions he had given sheriff's investigators and FBI agents during various interviews.
Under cross-examination, Bartlett acknowledged that he was forced to leave the anti-drug team in September, 1987, because his supervisors were told of theft allegations against him long before the money-skimming scandal had broken. Defense attorneys also suggested that he was attempting to implicate their clients merely to avoid a prison term.
Bartlett, who taped telephone conversations with deputies, said neither Juarez nor Powe admitted wrongdoing on the telephone tapes or in a 25-minute recording of a meeting between Powe and Bartlett secretly taped by Bartlett last year at a fast-food restaurant.
Prosecutors say Powe did not dispute any of the incriminating comments by Bartlett. But Powe's attorney said his client had been instructed to be wary about saying anything without his attorney present.
At one point, Bartlett said, Powe pulled up his shirt to reassure him that he was not wearing a hidden microphone. Bartlett did the same and apologized for the brace he often wore under his shirt for his ailing back. Hidden inside the brace was a miniature tape recorder and microphones.