U.S. Attorney Widens Role in LAPD Probe
Increasing the federal government’s assertive role in the Los Angeles police corruption probe, U.S. Atty. Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that his office has asked immigration officials to refrain from deporting a Guatemalan national who says he and his girlfriend were beaten, robbed and terrorized by LAPD officers.
Mayorkas said, moreover, that he has ordered a review of all federal prosecutions involving Los Angeles officers who have been implicated in police crimes or misconduct.
In one potentially tainted case, a federal public defender filed court papers last week seeking to overturn a 1997 weapons conviction involving two LAPD officers, one of whom has since been criminally charged in connection with the LAPD investigation.
Mayorkas, who actually ordered the internal review of federal prosecutions two weeks ago, said he believes there are “only a handful” of potentially tainted cases involved.
“We’re not waiting for anyone to contact us. We’re addressing the issue proactively,” he said of federal prosecutions that may have relied on corrupt officers.
That stance applies to potential civil rights violations under investigation by his office, as well, Mayorkas said, noting that prosecutors contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service to prevent the pending deportation of an alleged victim of former LAPD Officer Rafael Perez, the central figure in the Rampart Division scandal, and his then-partner.
In an April 17 letter to Rosemary Melville, the INS deputy district director in Los Angeles, Chief Assistant U.S. Atty. Consuelo Woodhead said Jorge Toscano is a potential witness to federal civil rights abuses allegedly committed by LAPD officers.
“I wish to express to you our belief that at this time any decision to remove Mr. Toscano from the United States should be deferred,” Woodhead wrote. “This office has undertaken a criminal investigation into allegations of civil rights violations. We are requesting of you sufficient time within which to learn of and assess Mr. Toscano’s allegations.”
A March 28 letter to Mayorkas from Toscano’s attorney, Stephen Yagman, alleges that Toscano was beaten and robbed April 1, 1997, by Perez--who is in jail for his role in the scandal--and his then-partner, Nino Durden.
Toscano’s girlfriend, Cynthia Diaz, filed her own lawsuit over the incident in January.
Yagman demanded that authorities halt the deportation so he can pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD.
“It remains to be seen if you will do the right thing, to wit, permit Mr. Toscano to remain in the United States as a victim of police brutality and as a material witness to police brutality,” Yagman said in the March 28 letter. “Will you walk the walk?”
Toscano, incarcerated on unrelated charges, is scheduled to be released Thursday from Calipatria State Prison in the Imperial Valley and transferred to the custody of the INS for deportation to Guatemala, Yagman said.
Diaz contends that Perez and Durden, while on duty and in uniform, threatened to kill her if she told authorities about the alleged incident at the Lafayette Hotel on Beverly Boulevard. She said the officers stole $2,700 belonging to Toscano.
Yagman’s letter said Diaz and Toscano were beaten and “terrorized” by the two officers.
Perez has since admitted that he and Durden stole the couple’s money, according to transcripts of his interviews with investigators, a copy of which has been obtained by The Times.
Yagman said he has heard nothing from INS officers, who had no immediate comment.
The lawyer said Mayorkas has “acted like a mensch” and “is walking the walk in the civil rights area.”
“None of his predecessors ever came close,” Yagman said. “This is a terrific development--no matter what happens next.”
The U.S. attorney’s internal review of potentially tainted federal cases coincides with a petition filed by federal Deputy Public Defender Michael J. Proctor, who is seeking a new trial for a man serving a 70-month sentence at the Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas.
Jorge Sisco-Aguilar, 28, contends that he was framed by former Rampart anti-gang Officers Paul Harper and Mark Wilbur on a federal charge of being an illegal alien in possession of a gun.
Harper was one of three officers arrested Monday, the first to be charged in connection with the LAPD’s corruption investigation.
Harper is accused of perjury in another alleged frame-up involving a planted gun. Wilbur has not been charged, but is among several dozen officers who allegedly witnessed police crimes or misconduct but failed to report them.
Sisco-Aguilar’s request for a new trial will be heard May 15 by Chief U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr.
Mayorkas said his office is still considering whether it will support or oppose the motion. Even as the public defender was preparing the writ, Mayorkas said prosecutors provided information suggesting that the case should be reviewed.
“When we called over there, we found out they were already working on it,” he said.
Federal Public Defender Maria E. Stratton confirmed the phone call. While lauding Mayorkas’ action, she said she hopes he decides to expand on that gesture by directing his staff to collaborate directly with the public defender’s office in identifying suspect cases.
Stratton said her office does not have access to the same law enforcement records available to Mayorkas’ staff.
The federal public defender’s staff has just started its own review, Stratton said, focusing on about 1,000 cases dating back to 1993 and involving defendants convicted of illegal reentry into the United States and related crimes.
Many of those cases involve clients who lived in the predominantly Latino area policed by Rampart officers.
Stratton said her staff has already identified three cases similar to Sisco-Aguilar’s.
Sisco-Aguilar was convicted in June 1997 after a two-day federal trial in which Harper and Wilbur testified that they saw him reach into his waistband and toss away a handgun during a chase through the hallways of a residential hotel.
In his motion for a new trial, Proctor said that the officers changed many key details about the chase but that federal prosecutors dismissed those discrepancies as insignificant.
“That should have been a red flag,” said Proctor, who argued to the jury that the officers lied about the gun.
According to a transcript, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeff Friedman responded by telling jurors: “What Mr. Proctor has just spent 25 minutes doing is accusing two LAPD officers of being renegade, dirty, gun-planting, drug-planting perjurious individuals.”
The jury convicted Sisco-Aguilar after deliberating 45 minutes.
Times staff writers Matt Lait and Scott Glover contributed to this story.