3 More Cops Arrested in Rogue Robberies
3 More Arrested in Rogue Cop Robberies
By Scott Glover and Matt Lait
Times Staff Writers
March 3, 2006
Nineteen people, including five former police officers, have been
criminally charged in connection with a string of daring and sometimes
violent robberies in Southern California, which were staged to look
like law enforcement raids as the suspects used police badges and
equipment to fool victims, federal authorities said Thursday.
Though the scope of the nearly five-year investigation was first made
public in 2004, new details emerged with the arrests this week of a
California prison guard ? taken into custody Thursday ? and of former
Los Angeles and Long Beach police officers. Three other suspects
remain at large, authorities said.
The group committed more than 20 robberies and burglaries in Los
Angeles and neighboring communities over a span of 2 1/2 years until
its ringleader, a Los Angeles police officer, was arrested in 2001 on
“What makes this case so disturbing is that the defendants include
five sworn law enforcement officers who abused their badges, their
uniforms and their oaths of office to engage in criminal conduct under
the pretense of conducting real police operations,” said Thomas
O’Brien, head of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney’s office
in Los Angeles. “While this story sounds like a script from ‘The
Shield’ or ‘Training Day,’ it actually happened.”
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton focused his comments on
the three former LAPD officers who allegedly were part of the crew.
The officers, he said, “are traitors to the badge that the men and
women of this department so proudly wear, traitors to their fellow
officers and, most importantly, traitors to the public.”
Most of the participants secretly pleaded guilty to their roles in the
crime spree, which lasted from January 1999 to June 2001. Their pleas,
in which they agreed to cooperate with authorities, had been kept
confidential to protect the ongoing investigation.
The mastermind of the criminal enterprise, officials said, was former
LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares, 36, a former Golden Gloves boxer who
sparred with top-notch fighters such as Oscar De La Hoya and Shane
Mosley. His cohorts were friends, co-workers and relatives,
One member was a former female boxer who trained with Palomares, they
In addition to the five sworn police officers implicated in the ring,
at least four other crew members had ties to law enforcement. Two were
graduates of a police officer training program at Rio Hondo Community
Another worked as a civilian custodial officer at the Garden Grove
Police Department and yet another was an LAPD Explorer Scout who
sought a job with the department but was turned down.
Authorities said Palomares’ crew was highly sophisticated and
organized. They wore police uniforms and badges during many of the
robberies. They used LAPD squad cars and unmarked police vehicles
during some of the heists, court records show.
During the crime spree, they stole more than 700 pounds of marijuana
and 50 kilos of cocaine from drug dealers, which they then sold, court
papers state. In addition, they stole cars, money, firearms and
jewelry. In one particularly bold robbery, crew members identified
themselves as police officers as they commandeered television sets
from the back of a truck on a street in Montebello, the documents
Some incidents turned violent, with victims being kicked and beaten.
At least one victim was shot with a stun gun.
According to court papers, the thieves used law enforcement tactics
during the robberies. Some crew members were assigned surveillance
duties, watching for police and potential witnesses. Other members ?
dubbed the “entry team” ? would burst into locations. Victims often
“Once inside the target locations, various co-conspirators would
assault and beat the occupants to obtain information, search for
narcotics, money and other valuable property,” the 54-count indictment
unsealed Thursday stated.
Authorities arrested three of the remaining suspects this week:
Ex-LAPD Officer William Ferguson, 33, and his brother, ex-Long Beach
Police Officer Joseph Ferguson, 31, who were both arrested Wednesday,
and Rodrigo Duran, 35, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy
and now a state prison guard.
The federal investigation of the criminal enterprise began on June 8,
2001, when Palomares and four other men were arrested in San Diego
after having paid $130,000 to undercover DEA agents for 10 kilos of
At the time, authorities searched Palomares’ Diamond Bar home and
seized 13 firearms ? including six unregistered semiautomatic assault
rifles, 150 boxes of ammunition and a money-counting machine.
One of the men arrested that day, Alvin Moon, immediately began
cooperating with authorities. In addition to the robberies, Moon told
authorities that he had witnessed Palomares and another crew member
assault a young man after an argument at a restaurant.
Moon alleged that Palomares punched the 23-year-old man several times
before Oscar Loaiza fatally stabbed him. Sources close to the
investigation said Thursday that they have largely corroborated Moon’s
account and that the case remains under investigation.
Soon after the San Diego arrest, sources close to the investigation
have said, LAPD internal affairs investigators began tailing William
Ferguson. Within days, he loaded up his boat and towed it to San
Diego, ostensibly to go fishing, the sources said.
Suspicious about the timing, investigators wondered whether Ferguson
was planning to dump evidence into the ocean. They tailed him to the
dock, but were unable to make arrangements to watch him at sea. State
Department of Fish and Game agents searched the boat at the behest of
police when it returned to shore, but found nothing.
Feeling the pressure from the joint FBI, LAPD and Long Beach Police
Department investigation, other members of Palomares’ crew began to
cooperate, hoping to minimize their prison time. Two years ago,
Palomares ? who by then had been sentenced to 15 years in prison on
the San Diego drug charges ? agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with
authorities. Though he faces a potential life sentence, he hopes that
his cooperation will result in a reduction.
Two months after Palomares began cooperating, Jesse Moya, 29, another
former LAPD officer involved in the crime ring, pleaded guilty and
agreed to cooperate as well.
The Ferguson brothers have made no such deals. Even before joining the
LAPD, records show that William Ferguson had five felony arrests on
suspicion of theft and burglary.
While at the LAPD, he was the subject of numerous misconduct
complaints, including one stemming from a 1999 on-duty shooting for
which he was eventually fired. The city later paid $1.7 million to
settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the shooting was
unjustified and subsequently covered up.
In addition to Palomares, Moya, Duran, Moon, Loaiza and the Ferguson
brothers, others charged with crimes were: Armando Contreras-Lopez,
35, of Paramount; Gabriel Loaiza, 30, of Montebello; Michelle Barajas,
38, of Paramount; David Barajas, 32, of Paramount; Jessica Treat, 31,
of Whittier; Jesus Estrada Dominguez, 40; Pablo Estrada, 29, of La
Puente; Manuel Hernandez, 25, of Pico Rivera; Manuel Godinez Martinez,
25; Juan Mendoza, 29, of Muscoy in San Bernardino County; Steve
Quintero, 30, of Montebello; and Geronimo Sevilla, 32, of Whittier.
Oscar Loaiza, Michelle Barajas and Contreras-Lopez are fugitives,
authorities said. Attorneys representing those charged either did not
return calls or could not be immediately reached for comment.
For years, Palomares enjoyed an excellent reputation in the LAPD,
receiving glowing reviews from his supervisors.
“A leader with a reputation for excellence,” one captain wrote in the
mid-1990s. “Another year of stellar service,” wrote another captain.
The first hint that Palomares may have been a problem officer came
from Rafael Perez, the disgraced ex-officer whose allegations of
widespread corruption and brutality launched the Rampart scandal in
During his then-secret debriefings with investigators, Perez said
Palomares, who also worked in Rampart, had intimated that he had been
involved in a bad shooting in 1998 as well as other misconduct.
“I would look at everything Palomares has done,” Perez told
investigators, “every arrest that he’s made.”