By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ
Associated Press Writers
LOS ANGELES- A renegade gang - including five former lawmen - broke into homes and businesses dressed in police uniforms, often threatening and assaulting occupants while conducting illicit searches for drugs, money and weapons, authorities said.The gang leader was former Los Angeles police officer Ruben Palomares, who orchestrated more than 20 robberies and burglaries between 1999 and 2001, authorities said Thursday at a news conference to announce that a total of 19 people had been charged in a four-year investigation.
"The depth of corruption and audacity among these law enforcement officers is nothing less than stunning," said U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang. "In addition to rejecting their responsibilities to the law, these officers rejected their sacred responsibilities to their communities and their departments."
Palomares and his associates would find a location where people were suspected of selling drugs, would gain access by telling the occupants they were conducting a legitimate search, and steal valuables inside, prosecutors said.
Authorities said the group wore police uniforms and badges and, in some instances, drove to drug houses in official police cars. Victims were often restrained, threatened and sometimes beaten while the group searched the houses for drugs, weapons and money, federal prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury on Tuesday had indicted six defendants on 54 counts _ the latest break in the investigation which, over the past 18 months, has netted charges against 13 other defendants, including Palomares, who is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence on drug trafficking and weapons charges. Another individual, a former LAPD officer, agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge in December 2004.
The latest to be charged included former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy Rodrigo Duran, former LA police officer William Ferguson, who was fired in 2003; and Ferguson's brother, Joseph Ferguson, 31, who once worked for the Long Beach Police Department.
The three men face multiple counts of conspiracy to possess narcotics with the intent to distribute, deprivation of rights under color of law and using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime and a crime of violence. Authorities are looking for the three others who were allegedly part of the group.
"The reality is, no police department is immune from bad cops," Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton said. "Today's announcement proves we are committed to getting rid of those who would tarnish the LAPD badge."
Associated Press writer Greg Risling contributed to this report.