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Pair Plead Not Guilty in Travel Agency Holdup

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two men accused of robbing a Granada Hills travel agency with two other men later killed by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Investigations Section pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of robbery and conspiracy.

Prosecutors charged Oswaldo Arevalo, 34, of Reseda, and Manuel Echeverria, 24, of Van Nuys, with three felony counts stemming from the robbery of Fly Moon Travel Service on Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills on Saturday morning.

The pair, who made a brief appearance in Van Nuys Municipal Court, are each being held in the Twin Towers jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. If convicted, they could each face as many as 21 years in state prison, prosecutors said.

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Police also arrested Jaime Rozo, 26; Felipe Arevalo, 41; and Luz Martinez, 21, of Reseda; Ignacio Vega, 25, of Panorama City; and Herman Segura, 42, of Encino. They were not charged Tuesday.

In a five-page felony complaint, authorities said the defendants drove to a Granada Hills shopping center in a purple Toyota RAV-4 accompanied by two other men in a silver Lincoln Continental, where they held up a travel agency and stole blank airline tickets while under police surveillance.

The defendants fled separately from the others, authorities allege, and were followed by police and arrested.

A short time later, undercover officers fatally shot two other men whom they had followed from the robbery, according to police. Police said one of the men was reaching for his waistband and turning toward detectives when he was shot, and that the other reached for his waistband as he crawled out the window on the passenger side of the car.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said the men--identified as Jose Rafael Figueroa, 24, of Van Nuys and Mario Guerrero, 23, address unknown--each died of a single shotgun blast to the back.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday it will investigate to determine whether the officers violated the suspects’ civil rights or used excessive force. Detectives from LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division are also investigating, as is routine in officer-involved shootings.

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LAPD Inspector General Jeffery C. Eglash said his office will review the department’s internal investigation and said it was too soon to come to any conclusions about the shooting at this time.

“The fact that the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office is looking into this is not determinative,” he said.

Federal officials are already looking into other shootings by the SIS squad, which has captured some of Los Angeles’ most infamous criminals but has also had its share of criticism for engaging in more than 50 gun battles that have left 34 suspects dead.

Police said the men they had followed from the travel agency holdup did not comply with orders to surrender. SIS Dets. Richard Spellman, Dean Gizzy, Lawrence Winston and Rodney Rodriguez were involved in the shooting, police said. Rodriguez was one of the detectives involved in a fatal shooting of three robbery suspects Feb. 25, 1997. Winston and Spellman were named as defendants in a 1996 federal civil rights lawsuit accusing them of trying to kill a man they had tailed and allowed to rob a liquor store in Newbury Park in 1995. The detectives have denied those allegations, and the case is pending.

Police said the two dead men and seven other suspects arrested Saturday were connected to at least 25 travel agency robberies since January, many of them in the San Fernando Valley. Blank airline tickets were taken in bold daylight holdups.

Times staff writer Solomon Moore contributed to this story.

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