Former LAPD Officer Pleads Guilty to Cocaine Trafficking

Crime: Ex-Rampart drug agent caught in sting faces 15-year minimum and remains a suspect in murder, robberies and an on-duty shooting.

By MATT LAIT and SCOTT GLOVER
TIMES STAFF WRITERS

March 28 2002

SAN DIEGO — A former Los Angeles police officer who once worked a narcotics assignment in the troubled Rampart Division pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal cocaine-trafficking charges.

Ruben Palomares, 32, faces a minimum of 15 years in federal prison for attempting to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration during an undercover sting operation in June, according to attorneys in the case.

Palomares’ guilty plea resolves his San Diego drug case, but his legal problems are expected to continue in Los Angeles, attorneys said. The former Golden Gloves boxer remains under investigation by federal authorities in connection with a Huntington Park murder, an on-duty police shooting and a string of home-invasion robberies. Dressed in a beige prison-issued jumpsuit, Palomares showed little emotion during the brief hearing at which he pleaded guilty to two drug-trafficking violations and one count of using a firearm in the commission of the crime.

“In regards to his San Diego case, he’s expressed remorse, realizing that he had a terrible lapse of judgment,” said Palomares’ attorney David H. Bartick. “He certainly realizes the severity of the case.”

Bartick asked U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan to postpone Palomares’ sentencing for several months because he said his client is a target of a federal grand jury investigation in Los Angeles. The judge scheduled Palomares’ sentencing for July 22.

Though Palomares admitted guilt in the San Diego case, Bartick said outside court that his client was not involved in the Huntington Park slaying, the home-invasion robberies or other crimes that may be under investigation by federal authorities in Los Angeles.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Randy Jones said Palomares received no special considerations in exchange for his guilty plea.

“The evidence was very strong against him,” Jones said.

Palomares and four other men were arrested June 8 after they allegedly bought 10 kilos of cocaine from undercover DEA agents in Chula Vista.

Palomares, in an effort to avoid arrest, flashed his LAPD badge and told the agents he was working on an undercover operation. He recanted that a short time later and said he was off-duty. At the time of his arrest Palomares was assigned to the LAPD’s Northeast Division.

Alvin Moon, one of the men arrested with Palomares that day, immediately admitted involvement in the drug deal. He also implicated Palomares in the murder of a young man in Huntington Park, and in a string of drug rip-offs in the Los Angeles area. Moon also accused another LAPD officer, William Ferguson, of being involved in some of the robberies as well.

Robert Rico, Ferguson’s attorney, said his client denies any involvement in criminal activity.

Federal authorities and LAPD detectives have been investigating Moon’s claims for 10 months. According to sources familiar with the probe, authorities are pursuing a racketeering case against Palomares, Ferguson and others under the theory that the alleged murder, robberies and perhaps other crimes were part of a continuing criminal enterprise.

Rafael Perez, the former LAPD officer who launched what became known as the Rampart corruption scandal with his admissions and allegations of police crimes and misconduct, told investigators shortly after he began cooperating in September 1999 that he thought Palomares was a bad cop.

Perez and Palomares were both assigned to Rampart in the mid-1990s.

He said Palomares had intimated to him that he and a partner shot an unarmed man during an encounter in a basement in the Rampart Division in 1998 and then planted a gun on him to cover it up. That shooting remains under investigation by the FBI and LAPD.

“I would look at everything Palomares has done, every arrest that he’s made, and scrutinize it very carefully,” Perez told investigators.

After Palomares’ guilty plea Wednesday, LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks issued a statement, saying: “We must acknowledge that the arrest and conviction of Palomares is a black eye to the law enforcement profession. However, we must also acknowledge that the vast majority of police officers … conduct themselves with honor and integrity in service to the community, and in their personal lives.”

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1 Comment for “Former LAPD Officer Pleads Guilty to Cocaine Trafficking”

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