FEDERAL INQUIRY TARGETS OFFICER
A veteran Los Angeles police officer who operates a security company in Belize is under federal investigation for allegedly smuggling handguns into the Central American nation, according to law enforcement sources and internal LAPD documents.
Officer Johnny Baltazar is accused of purchasing eight .40-caliber Glocks from the LAPD Academy store and secretly shipping them, along with two other guns and 1,530 rounds of ammunition, to Belize where he runs a company called Elite Security, according to documents obtained by The Times.
Baltazar, 49, who was assigned to the West Los Angeles Division, has been accused administratively by the LAPD with exporting firearms without a license, failing to declare firearms he exported and failing to notify his LAPD superiors that he was under federal investigation, documents show. He has been suspended with pay pending a disciplinary hearing that could result in his firing.
Such hearings, which were open to the public for decades, have been conducted in secret since a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that limited access to police personnel information.
Baltazar, who serves on the board of directors of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, an association of African American employees of the Los Angeles Police Department, could not be reached for comment. Calls to his lawyer were not returned.
Beyond the current charges, LAPD officials are also seeking additional information about his security company and specifically what it does.
“The question is what was he doing in Belize?” said one police official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the confidential nature of the investigation. The official said Baltazar did not have a department-issued off-duty work permit, which is required for officers who work second jobs.
The official added that Baltazar had been working a compressed work schedule in which officers work either 10 or 12 hours a day, three or four days a week, and that he told fellow officers he had been traveling to Belize.
Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said most major law enforcement agencies have strict policies regarding outside work by officers “because they don’t want their people engaged in illegal activity or activity that’s detrimental to the reputation of the department.”
When officers working second jobs don’t obtain permits, it makes it difficult for department officials to assess whether the work they are doing is consistent with the principles of their law enforcement day jobs, Gennaco said.
Federal authorities are continuing to investigate the allegations against Baltazar and are expected to present their findings to a grand jury, according to documents.
The documents state that Baltazar bought the handguns from the academy store in February 2007. In July 2007, he placed them in a safe, along with a pair of 9-millimeter handguns and the ammunition, and arranged to ship them to Belize with a company called Amerijet.
The officer did not declare the guns or ammunition in paperwork associated with the shipment and allegedly told Amerijet employees the safe was empty. Baltazar declared the value of the safe at $231.84, the documents show, but insured the shipment for $6,000 -- the approximate value of the guns and ammunition.
Importing handguns larger than 9 millimeters is banned in Belize under a 2002 law, according to the police documents.
Law enforcement sources said officials in Belize somehow discovered the guns were inside the safe and determined they were not legal. The safe was returned to the U.S.
The safe and guns were seized by customs officials on their arrival in the U.S., according to documents.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, would not confirm or deny that Baltazar was under investigation and declined to comment for this article.