A veteran Los Angeles police officer who owns a private security company in Belize surrendered to federal authorities Monday after being indicted on a weapons charge.
Johnny Augustus Baltazar, 50, is accused of illegally shipping 10 handguns and 1,500 rounds of ammunition to the Central American nation, where he owns a company called Elite Security, according to authorities. Prosecutors suspect the guns were intended for use by employees of the company. Baltazar did not have the required license to export the firearms, officials allege.
“As a law enforcement officer, this defendant should know full well why there are strict controls on the export of dangerous firearms,” Michael Unzueta, a top official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, said in a statement. “These laws are designed to ensure that potentially lethal weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. That threat is the reason cases like this are an ICE priority.”
Baltazar, a 23-year LAPD veteran, made a brief appearance in federal court Monday afternoon and was expected to be released on a $10,000 bond. He will plead not guilty when he is arraigned Nov. 16, said his attorney, Arthur Avazian. Outside the courtroom, Avazian said Baltazar was a dedicated police officer who was now facing a felony prosecution for what he called a “technical violation” of the law.
The officer, assigned to the department’s West Los Angeles Division, has been on administrative leave since October 2008 pending an internal investigation into his activities in Belize, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Beyond the alleged weapons violation, LAPD investigators were scrutinizing the nature of the work Baltazar’s company performed and for whom it was performed.
An LAPD disciplinary hearing in the case has been postponed several times, Avazian said.