A former member of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s special celebrity reserve unit and an associate from Anaheim were indicted by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana on Wednesday on suspicion of laundering about $225,000, the U.S. attorney announced.
Elie Abdalnour, 36, of San Dimas, a wealthy Baca supporter who owns Cypress Jewelry Mart Inc., was sworn in in June and given a badge and a gun by the department. He is the second member of the celebrity reserve unit arrested this year. As a result of the arrests, the program was suspended last month.
Abdalnour and Jirair Tatarian, 29, co-owner of an Orange County strip club, are accused of laundering money they allegedly believed came from proceeds from counterfeit clothing.
Undercover Anaheim police officers initiated the investigation, telling Abdalnour and Tatarian they had access to increasingly large amounts from the sale of counterfeit apparel. Abdalnour was introduced to the undercover investigators as the money launderer by Tatarian, authorities said.
“Using banking contacts that Abdalnour maintained in Beirut, Lebanon, Abdalnour and Tatarian agreed to launder money for undercover investigators,” according to a statement by the U.S. attorney. “During an eight-month period, Abdalnour and Tatarian laundered approximately $225,000, receiving a 10% commission for their services.”
Three months ago, Los Angeles sheriff’s officials suspended celebrity Reserve Deputy Scott Zacky, whose family owns Zacky Farms, after he was accused of brandishing a weapon at two people outside his Bel-Air home.
Baca set up the program in June for celebrities, executives, athletes and other notable community members to serve as his “kitchen cabinet.” As it turned out, no well-known celebrities wanted to join. The unit included 20 or so little-known but influential individuals with an interest in law enforcement.
Tatarian and another man, Lionel Rodriguez, were also indicted Wednesday on suspicion of attempting to smuggle guns onto planes at Los Angeles International Airport. Rodriguez, 29, of Diamond Bar, worked as a loss-prevention agent at a duty-free shop at LAX.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean A. Kawahara said the men thought they had successfully arranged to have guns placed on flights to Ireland for a fee of $900 per firearm. But the money was paid to undercover police officers operating a sting, she said.
On Oct. 22, five guns were brought into LAX, taken past security and delivered to an undercover agent, who was supposed to carry the weapons onto a plane, Kawahara said.
On Nov. 17, another five guns were delivered to Rodriguez, who was arrested after allegedly smuggling them through security by using his security pass and knowledge of procedures at the airport.