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Lawyers for Accused Drug Traffickers Win Access to Wiretap Request

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for three accused drug traffickers won records of a wiretap application and other investigative documents Wednesday, the latest legal victory in their claim that Los Angeles police and the district attorney’s office have for years misled judges about the purpose of such surveillance.

After months of legal wrangling, authorities turned over the original wiretap application and other information to lawyers for defendants Lauro Gaxiola, Antonio Gastelum and Carlos Lobo.

The documents are part of the prosecution’s case against the three, who have been in custody since May 1996 for allegedly attempting to sell about $20 million in cocaine.

But when and if the three stand trial could hinge on whether the LAPD probe began with a wiretap that originally targeted others and was not disclosed to the defense.

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Moreover, defense attorneys said after Wednesday’s hearing before Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Alarcon that they believe hundreds of other prosecutions and convictions may be affected by the outcome of this case. Outside court, attorneys claimed that authorities may have been purposely deceiving Los Angeles judges for years in an effort to obtain wiretaps that were used on more than the intended targets.

“This [case] is leading to other places . . . other cases . . . other concealments,” said Gaxiola’s attorney, Philip DeMassa.

But police and district attorney’s officials said their actions were legal and have no bearing on other cases.

“Everything we do here is within the parameter of case and statute law,” said Capt. Ron Seban, head of the LAPD’s narcotics bureau. “And it does not include entering into any kind of conspiracy or shenanigans that would deprive a defendant of a fair hearing.”

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Last month, Alarcon set the stage for the release of wiretap information when he concluded that the prosecution had not proven that it had any reason--outside of the wiretap to suspect the men of drug trafficking. The judge ordered the prosecutors to disclose information on the wiretap, which led to one group of detectives turning over alleged evidence to other detectives.

Turning that information over Wednesday, prosecutor Jason Lustig asked that the defense keep the documents in confidence.

While Lustig declined comment, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, Sandi Gibbons, said: “We are obviously concerned that any ongoing investigation might be compromised by release of the information.”

Gibbons, like the LAPD’s Seban, dismissed the notion that this prosecution has any implications for other cases. She also suggested that it would not make sense for authorities to jeopardize their case by engaging in questionable tactics.

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“Why would you go to all that trouble and then have it thrown out?” Gibbons asked. “That makes no sense.”

But defense attorneys contend that something more is at play here.

“I think [the case] has far-reaching significance,’ said Gastelum’s attorney, Roger J. Rosen. “You are going to see defense counsels . . . systematically making requests,” to see if undisclosed wiretaps led to clients’ arrests.


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