PAM EASTON, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) -- Five Houston police officers were arrested Friday on charges of taking money from bar owners in exchange for protection and forewarning of upcoming enforcement actions by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the city's police chief announced.
Chief Clarence Bradford said the officers, who have each worked for the department for more than a decade, were arrested after an internal affairs investigation revealed they were working in groups each Friday and Saturday night and taking between $25 and $50 each night from a number of bar owners.
"When you have veteran officers who are involved in this type of activity, you have someone who clearly knows what is expected of them," Bradford said.
Bradford said all five officers knew their actions were illegal and had been fired.
Each was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and remained jailed Friday night. Bradford said three of the five arrested were patrol officers: Rolando Cruz, 35, a 10-year veteran; Salve R. Ramirez, 45, a 19-year veteran; and David A. Gamboa, 44, an 18-year veteran.
Also charged was an officer with the robbery division, Freddie T. Gonzales, 41, an 18-year veteran, and Javier Gomez, 40, a 19-year veteran who worked in the community services division.
If convicted, the officers can face up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Gomez also was charged with theft of a firearm by a public servant for taking a gun from undercover officer, who was posing as a bar owner during the internal investigation. If convicted of that charge, Gomez could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said representatives from his office assisted in the investigation, which began more than six months ago, and are now asking other bar owners to come forward if they know of unreported activity by the officers.
"These people are now off the street and people can come forward," Rosenthal said. "This is simply an antidotal situation. There is no reason to believe this is epidemic. ... I know that those other officers are as disappointed as the command staff ... that this kind of thing would actually happen."
Houston Police Union president Hans Marticiuc did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press Friday.
Bradford said illegal underage drinking, prostitution and narcotics activity was taking place in some of the clubs and bars.
"These officers, for the protection money they were receiving, would turn their heads," Houston Police department spokesman Robert Hurst said.