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Judge Declares Mistrial in Agent’s Drug Theft Case

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

With jurors deadlocked 10 to 1 for acquittal, a federal judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case against a veteran state narcotics agent accused of stealing 650 pounds of cocaine from an evidence vault and peddling it through a drug-using former girlfriend.

After 13 days of deliberations, jurors told U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz they were at an impasse on the most serious charges against former state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement officer Richard Wayne Parker.

The holdout juror hastily left the Los Angeles federal courthouse and refused to be interviewed, but other members of the panel said they had serious doubts about much of the evidence against Parker.

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The jury did agree unanimously to clear him of a money laundering charge, as well as drug possession charges involving two codefendants previously acquitted in the case. And it returned a guilty verdict against Parker on a lesser charge of filing a false tax return, though some jurors said they did so reluctantly.

Assistant U.S. Attys. Rebecca Lonergan and Beverly Reid O'Connell, who prosecuted the eight-week trial, said any decision to retry Parker on drug conspiracy and trafficking charges would be made after a review by their superiors.

Parker’s lawyers, Richard and Maria Hamar, said they were buoyed by the outcome and by juror comments afterward disparaging the prosecution’s witnesses and evidence.

“If the government listens to what the jurors had to say about this case and chooses to do the right thing, there will not be another trial,” said Maria Hamar.

Parker, who has been held without bail since his arrest a year ago, will remain in custody pending a hearing July 6 to determine a new trial date, if necessary, and to consider a renewed defense motion that he be released on bail.

After his arrest, FBI agents discovered $599,000 in cash in Parker’s San Juan Capistrano home, garage and vehicles. They also seized what they said were coded drug transaction ledgers. Parker was accused of swiping the cocaine during a faked burglary over the Fourth of July weekend in 1997 at the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement office in Riverside, where he worked.

Although investigators concluded it was an inside job, Parker did not become a suspect until a year later when he was arrested in an FBI drug sting unrelated to the Riverside case.

Agents intercepted him as he drove out of a Pasadena parking structure after receiving $47,000 in cash from his former girlfriend, Monica L. Pitto, 40, of Hermosa Beach. She was tailed there after selling a kilogram of cocaine to a drug dealer-turned-informant. She confessed and implicated Parker.

The next day, outfitted with a hidden recorder, she took part in a drug sting that resulted in the arrests of Christine L. Whitney, 27, of Redondo Beach and Pamela Sue Gray, 44, of Hermosa Beach.

Prosecutors said Whitney regularly bought quantities of the stolen cocaine through Pitto and resold them to other dealers, using Gray to stash the drugs and to make deliveries and collect money.

Whitney and Gray, tried with Parker, were acquitted June 18.

The case against Parker was based largely on circumstantial evidence--the cash found at his home--and the testimony of Pitto, who negotiated a plea agreement with the prosecution. She is awaiting sentencing.

Pitto said she and Parker began selling drugs in 1992 when he asked her for help in disposing of a kilogram of cocaine that she said he had received as a kickback.

She testified that she sold it to a drug dealer friend for $15,000, and that she and Parker split the proceeds, marking the start of their drug trafficking partnership.

Over the next several years, she said, she and Parker sold cocaine in amounts averaging about one or two kilograms a transaction to her dealer friend, Gerhard Hensel. After the theft at the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, she said, they began selling larger quantities to Hensel and to Whitney.

Parker’s lawyer Richard Hamar branded Pitto a liar. He accused her of falsely implicating Parker to save her own skin.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Parker said the cash belonged to Pitto and that he was simply holding it for safekeeping.

Pitto, he explained, had worked for Citibank’s private banking department, and he said her clients included Middle East royalty who entrusted her with large sums of cash to have available when they showed up in Beverly Hills for spur-of-the-moment shopping.

“Monica assured me it wasn’t anything illegal,” he testified.

Prosecutors pointed out, however, that Pitto’s job at Citibank was eliminated in 1992, five years before the $599,000 was found.

Parker also denied stealing the cocaine from the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement’s Riverside office, though he admitted he had a key and knew the combination to a lock that gave him access to the evidence locker.

His lawyer told jurors that security at the office was atrocious and that a civilian employee who worked there as property clerk “had the motive, means and opportunity” to commit the theft.

The woman, Shirleen Gravitt, was interrogated in connection with the theft and her home was searched, but she has not been charged. She was subpoenaed but never called as a witness in the Parker trial after her lawyer told the judge she would invoke her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Lonergan characterized Parker’s attempt to direct suspicions at Gravitt as a trick to divert the jury’s attention.

In remarks to the jury, Parker’s lawyer described him as a less than perfect human being who cheated on his wife, kept a mistress in Newport Beach and frequented topless nightclubs. Parker’s womanizing became a subplot in the unfolding case, with scenes resembling a daytime soap opera.

During a bail hearing after his arrest, Parker’s wife, Diane, a former Orange County sheriff’s deputy, was confronted by a prosecutor with information that he had a mistress.

She pulled off her wedding ring, slipped it into a jacket pocket and said, “I think I need a drink and a couple of hours to think about this.”

After the hearing, she drove to the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement office in Orange where Parker’s alleged paramour was employed. A confrontation ensued and Diane Parker was charged with assault and battery on the woman. The complaint was later dropped. Parker and his wife subsequently patched things up. She has attended almost every court hearing since then.

After Friday’s verdicts, Diane Parker said the trial “has been hell” on her and the couple’s sons, ages 2 and 5. “They really miss their dad,” she said.

Asked what it was like listening to testimony about her husband’s girlfriends, she replied:

“Oh, I’m going to kill him when I get my hands on him. He’s fully aware of that.”


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