LAPD Officer Arrested in Drug-Evidence Theft
A nine-year Los Angeles police veteran was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of stealing three brick-size kilograms of cocaine from a department property room.
At a hastily held news conference, Chief Bernard C. Parks said the arrest of Officer Rafael Antonio Perez was a “sad and tragic” event that “tarnishes the badge” worn by every cop with the LAPD.
Perez has been accused of masterminding and carrying out the brazen drug theft at Parker Center, the LAPD’s headquarters. The 31-year-old officer assigned to the Rampart Division allegedly posed as another officer to check out the three packages of cocaine, weighing more than 6 pounds in total.
Investigators believe that Perez worked with known drug dealers to distribute the cocaine on the streets. Two of the officer’s suspected associates are in custody in connection with other drug charges. Their names were not immediately available.
“Our assumption is that he sold the narcotics, but we cannot validate that,” Parks said.
No other LAPD officers have been implicated in the theft, but the investigation is continuing, the chief said.
Perez, who is scheduled to be arraigned today, was booked on suspicion of cocaine theft, possession of cocaine for sale and forgery, police said. He was being held in lieu of $550,000 bail. If convicted of all charges, Perez faces a maximum sentence of eight years and four months in prison.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard A. Rosenthal, who is prosecuting the case, declined to discuss the evidence against Perez.
Winston Kevin McKesson, Perez’s attorney, said his client “categorically and steadfastly denies all the allegations. . . . This is pretty much shattering him.”
McKesson said Perez, who is married and the father of a young daughter, “embodies the American dream” and “is a stellar officer.”
The officer’s arrest follows a six-month internal investigation that until three weeks ago was highly secret. Earlier this month, officers throughout the department, particularly in Rampart, suspected that Perez was in trouble when he was “assigned to home” by his bosses.
On Aug. 6, investigators served search warrants on Perez’s LAPD locker, his car and home.
Parks said no drugs were found during those searches. He said investigators were still reviewing documents and other possible evidence retrieved during the searches.
On the same day detectives conducted the searches, they interviewed Perez, but he refused to cooperate, sources said.
According to Parks, supervisors with the LAPD’s property room discovered that the cocaine, which was secured in a department vault, was missing in March after various security measures were triggered, alerting the supervisors that the property had been checked out but not returned.
LAPD officials immediately launched a massive audit to find the drugs and determine whether more than 3 kilograms of cocaine were missing. Auditors scoured the property room, accounting for more than 100,000 pieces of evidence.
Police said the cocaine originally was booked into the LAPD as evidence after it was confiscated during an undercover narcotics operation. At that time, it sold for nearly $20,000 a kilogram. Police officials say the 3 kilograms could be resold in smaller quantities on the street for more than $800,000.
According to authorities, Perez allegedly went to the property room and signed out the drugs under another officer’s name, claiming to need it for court.
Investigators have obtained writing samples from Perez, and one police source said the officer’s handwriting is a “dead-bang” match with the signature used to check out the cocaine.
Perez’s arrest Tuesday stunned many LAPD officers. “He seemed to be a good guy,” said one who knew him. “But if he’s doing that stuff, he deserves to go down.”
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Perez had been assigned to Rampart’s anti-gang unit. He was working with a narcotics team at the time the drugs were taken.
According to police sources, Perez is a close friend of David A. Mack, an LAPD officer who was arrested in December on suspicion of holding up a bank at gunpoint and stealing more than $700,000. Investigators, however, have not established any criminal link between the two, sources said.
In May, City Controller Rick Tuttle released an audit of the LAPD’s property rooms, concluding that there were internal weaknesses in supervision that jeopardized the success of criminal prosecutions and created an easy opportunity for abuse and theft.
Parks said at his news conference Tuesday that he felt Tuttle’s report contained inaccuracies and misunderstandings about the way the LAPD handles property. Moreover, Parks pointed out that the controller’s audit did not discover the missing drugs.