Ex-Sheriff’s Sergeant Cites Fatal Scott Raid in Theft Accusation
A former Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant said Monday that the Sheriff’s Department “stole $60 million” through forfeiture laws in 1988 and 1989 and that he believes the practice continues because of recent accusations of impropriety in the 1992 drug raid and slaying of Malibu millionaire Donald P. Scott.
Robert R. Sobel’s comments come two weeks after Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury charged that sheriff’s narcotics deputies had obtained a warrant under false pretenses in conducting the raid on Scott’s home.
Bradbury suggested that the aim was to enrich the Sheriff’s Department budget. Sobel said the same falsification of sheriff’s reports took place when he was sergeant in charge of two narcotics units between 1985 and 1989.
A spokesman for Sheriff Sherman Block declined comment on Sobel’s statements, but said Block would reply, perhaps today.
Sobel made his statement to reporters moments after he received a six-month sentence for his role in the drug money-skimming scandal that involved narcotics deputies.
In asking U. S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie to give Sobel a much lighter sentence than the 21 to 27 months he otherwise would have gotten under federal sentencing guidelines, Assistant U. S. Atty. Jeffrey C. Eglash said Sobel had been honest throughout his 3 1/2 years of cooperation with prosecutors.
“He has at all times been completely truthful, honest and forthright concerning his own illegal actions and that of those with whom he worked,” Eglash wrote in a sentencing memorandum for the judge.
Rafeedie, agreeing to reduce the sentence to six months, said he too felt that Sobel’s cooperation had been “extraordinary,” particularly because it may have put Sobel in danger from his sheriff’s colleagues.
However, Eglash said he knew nothing about Sobel’s statements that $60 million in seized drug money had been stolen with the use of illegal search warrants and other questionable conduct by deputies.
“We continue to believe that Sobel has told us the truth about the money skimming and other misconduct that he observed, but this statement goes beyond that,” Eglash said.
“I think what he’s saying is the forfeiture seizures are tainted because what his crew seized was dirty, and he’s just making an assumption about the other seizures that goes beyond his personal knowledge.”
Eglash and another federal prosecutor in the money-skimming scandal, Asst. U. S. Atty. Michael Emmick, said Sobel had not previously informed them about the statements he made to reporters.
In his report released March 30 on the Scott case, Bradbury said that the raid that ended in the fatal shooting of Scott by a narcotics deputy should never have taken place. He said the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had no adequate basis for a warrant to search the property and may have lied about the presence of drugs. The Ventura County district attorney added, “This search warrant became Donald Scott’s death warrant.”
Block last week dismissed the district attorney’s accusations as “a lot of conjecture and supposition . . . reeking of sensationalism.”
At about the same time, the Sheriff’s Department acknowledged that in cash alone, its seizures of purported drug money under forfeiture laws and its use in the Sheriff Department’s budget, amounted to $33.9 million in 1988 and $33.1 million in 1989. In the last five years, the cash seizures totaled $151.4 million.
In addition, it reported a total of 66 houses, 110 vehicles, four airplanes and two businesses seized in the five-year period. No value was put on these items.
Agreeing to talk to reporters after his sentencing, Sobel said that when he was still on duty in 1988 and 1989, almost all the seizures resulted after deputies falsified information to justify warrants, much as Bradbury had alleged in his report on the Scott case.
Sobel said he is writing a book on his experiences and that when the Los Angeles press “shows some guts and holds the Sheriff’s Department’s feet to the fire, then I’ll start talking” to reporters more regularly.
The money-skimming scandal “goes a lot deeper” than the 19 narcotics deputies indicted thus far and the 12 convicted, Sobel said. But, he added, “I can’t say for sure” how far up in the department it goes. However, he said he knows that certain higher-ranking officers were involved.
“We (the convicted deputies) represent a hangnail on a terminal patient,” Sobel declared.
Sobel said the most serious scandal involved the seizure of $60 million in 1988 and 1989 for the department through illegitimate drug raids.
“Many dog alerts we said we did, when dogs supposedly sniffed drugs, actually never occurred,” he said. “Some of (the investigations) were, in fact, done over the phone.”
“This case we’re seeing in court is just the tip of the iceberg,” he added. “The falsification of police reports is rife. . . . These seizures have been legal street robberies.”
Of the raid on the Scott ranch, Sobel said: “What does it tell you? To me, it says that the Sheriff’s Department didn’t learn the lesson it should have learned from these trials that have been going on.”
Sobel said he had made a more detailed statement of his allegations in a letter to Judge Rafeedie.
A 20-year veteran who was the first narcotics deputy to cooperate with authorities, Sobel pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit theft and a count of filing a false income tax return. He admitted personally receiving more than $100,000 from drug money thefts--cash that was among the $1.5 million skimmed by the narcotics crew he once headed. All nine members of that elite investigative unit have been convicted.
Sobel also testified at the trial of five other sheriff’s deputies and a Los Angeles police detective in another anti-drug unit. They were acquitted last year of various charges, including allegations of stealing drug money. The jury was hung on other counts involving the defendants.