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Ex-Drug Agent Gets Life in Cocaine Theft

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Parker, a former veteran agent with the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, was sentenced to life in prison and fined $16 million Wednesday for masterminding the biggest drug theft from a California police agency.

Handcuffed and dressed in blue prison denims, the 45-year-old Parker appeared unfazed as U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder handed down the sentence.

Federal criminal statutes do not allow for parole.

Defense lawyer Richard Hamar said afterward that his client seemed “so relaxed because he’s confident the conviction will be reversed on appeal.”

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Jack Beecham, who heads the state narcotics agency where Parker worked for 10 years, attended the sentencing and told reporters, “Justice has been done, but from a personal perspective, I think he should have received two life sentences.”

According to investigators, Parker conspired with his half brother and a friend, both former members of the California Highway Patrol, to swipe 650 pounds of cocaine from the state narcotics agency’s Riverside office over the July 4, 1997, holiday weekend. The theft was made to look like a burglary.

Parker sold the cocaine to other drug dealers through a former girlfriend.

Although investigators suspected that the theft was an inside job, Parker was not arrested until a year later as a result of an unrelated FBI drug probe.

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Federal agents seized him as he drove out of a Pasadena parking garage with $47,000 in drug proceeds given to him by former girlfriend Monica Pitto, 40, of Hermosa Beach.

Pitto, who had been followed there after a drug deal, implicated Parker immediately after her arrest.

At Parker’s home in San Juan Capistrano, FBI agents found nearly $600,000 in cash.

Parker, who spent 21 years in law enforcement, was tried twice last year. In the first trial, the jury deadlocked 10-1 for acquittal on the most serious drug counts, convicting him only of filing a false income tax return.

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In the second trial, however, jurors took less than two hours to convict Parker of conspiracy and selling cocaine, felonies punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

Defense lawyer Hamar said that Judge Snyder committed a reversible error by refusing to allow the defense to call two witnesses who had testified in the first trial.

With Parker’s conviction behind them, investigators turned their attention back to the Riverside theft, believing other law enforcement officers might have been involved.

Last November, a federal grand jury indicted former California Highway Patrol Officer Michael Wilcox, 40, on money-laundering charges. Wilcox was a former patrol partner of Parker’s half brother, George Michael Ruelas, also 40, of Temecula.

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In a bid for leniency, Wilcox gave prosecutors a detailed confession, implicating himself, Parker, Ruelas and Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Deputy James Strickler in a string of drug thefts beginning in 1991.

According to an FBI affidavit, Wilcox said the foursome began by burglarizing or forcing their way into the homes of small-time drug dealers and making off with cash. The enterprise allegedly netted a paltry $12,000.

In 1996, however, Parker came up with the scheme to fake a burglary at the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement office in Riverside, where he was assigned, Wilcox said.

He said Parker produced a detailed floor plan along with keys and the alarm code needed to enter the agency’s office and drug locker.

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Wilcox said that he, Parker and Ruelas--Strickler did not take part--pooled $300 to buy a hydraulic door opener, walkie-talkies and alligator clips, the latter to be left dangling from interior alarm wiring to give the impression that burglars committed the crime.

Since Parker worked out of the Riverside office and might be questioned afterward, he did not participate in the actual theft, Wilcox said. Instead, Parker, the married father of two boys, spent the holiday with a paramour to establish an alibi.

On the afternoon of July 4, 1997, Wilcox said, he dropped Ruelas off at the narcotics agency office, waited nearby and then helped him haul out two large duffel bags filled with cocaine. They took the bags to a motel room, waited an hour and then returned to pick up more drugs, according to Wilcox.

After cleaning out the drug locker, he said, they drove to Fresno where they stashed the drugs in a friend’s garage.

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Wilcox said that Ruelas would periodically telephone with orders for specific amounts of cocaine that Parker needed to sell. Wilcox estimated that he should have received $800,000 to $1 million from a three-way split of the profits, but that he got just $550,000.

After agreeing to cooperate with investigators, Wilcox arranged a meeting with Ruelas that was secretly recorded by FBI agents. During the meeting, Ruelas insisted that the drug proceeds had been evenly divided and admitted burying some of the remaining cocaine after Parker’s arrest on July 2, 1998, the FBI affidavit said.

At Parker’s request, Judge Snyder agreed to recommend to the federal Bureau of Prisons that he serve his term at a federal penitentiary in Massachusetts. Because he is a former law enforcement officer, Parker has expressed concern about being incarcerated in California.


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