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Scandal Could Taint Hundreds of Convictions

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office prepares to seek the reversal of nine more convictions tainted by alleged police misconduct, high-ranking prosecutors predicted Wednesday that the Los Angeles Police Department’s corruption scandal will unfold for years to come and will involve the overturning of hundreds of other criminal convictions.

LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, meanwhile, told the City Council that investigators have found “telltale signs” that could point to corruption at other LAPD stations.

The chief, in his most comprehensive public statement on the scandal, said that a “lack of oversight” on the part of supervisors all the way up the chain of command allowed corruption at the Rampart station to go unchecked.

Parks’ comments to the City Council came as lawmakers and other law enforcement agencies expressed a heightened interest in the 6-month-old corruption scandal, the LAPD’s worst ever.

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The head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office talked to Parks earlier this week to discuss the agency’s role in the burgeoning investigation.

“I’m just afraid that the pressure is coming to build. I want to map out a course of action,” said Assistant FBI Director James V. DeSarno Jr.

Lockyer’s Office Sends Investigator

California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer’s office last week dispatched, with Parks’ consent, a single agent to the LAPD’s internal affairs unit to scrutinize the probe. More agents are likely to be assigned to the detail.

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“While memories are fresh, we’d like to be part of this investigation as it develops rather than going back and plowing the same ground at a later date,” said an official in the attorney general’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lockyer’s office is discussing whether to dispatch agents or attorneys to work with the district attorney’s office as it examines Rampart-related cases. The source said the D.A. is “welcoming our involvement” in the Rampart probe.

By most accounts, the corruption investigation is moving beyond the crimes and misconduct involving ex-officer-turned-informant Rafael Perez to alleged crimes involving other officers.

As the list of officers suspected of misconduct grows, the potential legal fallout increases exponentially, sources familiar with the investigation said.

Those sources said that Parks’ earlier figure of 99 tainted convictions is far too low. In fact, hundreds of convictions--regardless of their validity--are expected to be tossed out if officers are disciplined or criminally charged and their credibility is damaged beyond repair.

Victoria Pipkin, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are gearing up for years of legal work associated with the scandal.

Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, she said, is adding seven prosecutors to his task force of 10 lawyers.

One of the new members of the team is expected to be Anne Ingalls, who successfully prosecuted the man who killed Bill Cosby’s son Ennis.

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“You don’t bring a star trial lawyer in if you plan on cutting deals,” one district attorney source said.

The district attorney’s team is focused on overturning bad convictions as well as pursuing any charges against crooked officers.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Pipkin, the D.A.'s spokeswoman. “We’re not going to hurry this.”

At the City Council meeting, Parks said LAPD investigators are looking beyond the beleaguered Rampart Division. Under polite--but thorough--questioning from council members, Parks said that he is seeking a significant increase in the department’s command staff as part of his response to the scandal.

He noted that while the number of officers in the department has grown significantly in recent years, the number of supervisors has not kept pace, leading in his view to the problems at Rampart and possibly elsewhere.

“Poor reporting and lack of supervision exists systemwide,” he said.

Parks, along with deputy chiefs Michael Bostic and Martin Pomeroy, were summoned to the council chambers at the request of city lawmakers who were seeking answers in open session about the widening scandal.

During a closed-door session two weeks ago, the council was warned that the city could face liability of up to $125 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the actions of crooked officers. City hall insiders now say that figure could exceed $200 million.

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Bostic--who is overseeing the department’s Board of Inquiry--described the internal investigation as a “monstrous” task. “Frankly, I don’t have a lot of good news,” Bostic told the council.

Bostic, echoing findings in a report sent to the Police Commission last week, said the department’s hiring practices were partially to blame for the problems at Rampart. “It was clear to us that four of the 12 officers we looked at should never have been hired by the department,” he said.

He said “significant problems” were found in the psychological screening of the officers. He said the Board of Inquiry will recommend that the city conduct polygraph tests on all prospective officers.

Bostic said the investigators also found that the Rampart Division’s anti-gang CRASH unit’s off-site location and lack of supervisors contributed to the corruption.

Officers assigned to the anti-gang unit at the station “worked pretty much on their own,” Bostic said.

“The only supervisor paying any attention to them was the sergeant in charge of CRASH,” he said. “That was a problem.”

‘Deterioration of Work’

Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg pointedly asked Parks if there was corruption at other stations in the department.

“How are you so convinced that focusing on Rampart is really the end of the story?” Goldberg said.

Parks responded: “We have not said that. We are starting at Rampart. We have looked at Rampart. We have looked at the work product of other areas. We have telltale signs of the deterioration of work. We have yet to go out and verify a lot of those things Perez has said about the other officers. That’s where we are now.”

Perez, a former member of Rampart’s CRASH unit, is providing authorities with information as part of a plea bargain to obtain a lesser sentence on cocaine theft charges.

Sources said LAPD investigators have discovered problems reminiscent of those in Rampart, including suspiciously identical arrest reports, approved with little or no scrutiny by supervisors, and the widespread mishandling of informants.

Today, prosecutors are expected to go into court and seek the reversal of nine more criminal convictions tainted by Rampart officers.

Among those slated to have his conviction overturned is Walter Rivas, who allegedly was framed on drug charges by Officer Michael Buchanan in 1998. Buchanan, a former Rampart CRASH officer who has been relieved of duty in connection with the corruption probe, is accused of planting crack cocaine on Rivas.

“Who do you think they are going to believe, are they going to believe you or me?” Rivas quoted Buchanan as saying shortly after his arrest in 1998.

Perez was not involved in Rivas’ arrest but told LAPD investigators that he had information that the case was tainted. Rivas corroborated Perez’s story when he was interviewed in prison by LAPD investigators last November.

To date, 32 convictions have been overturned because of the corruption investigation.

According to investigative documents obtained by The Times, about 70 officers are under investigation for either committing crimes or knowing about crimes and helping to cover them up.

Investigators on the corruption task force have turned up information about alleged unjustified shootings, beatings, evidence planting, witness intimidation, perjury and false arrests.

Times staff writers Mark Gladstone and Eric Lichtblau contributed to this story.


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