05/10/2006

Calif. confiscates guns, badges, police cars, in Ferrari investigation

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES- Authorities confiscated several guns, badges and police cars as part of an ongoing probe into a 162 mph (261 kilometers) crash of a rare Ferrari sports car.

The Feb. 21 wreck triggered an investigation into a mysterious private company after two unidentified men showed up at the crash scene claiming to be "homeland security" officers from the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority. The agency provides free transportation for the disabled in suburbs east of Los Angeles.

Swedish businessman Bo Stefan Eriksson, 44, who has pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the crash, also told deputies at the scene that he was a deputy commissioner of the agency's anti-terrorism division.

"Why does a transit agency need a police department and why do they have police badges, guns, jackets, patches and police vehicles?" sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Tuesday. "This investigation is focused like a laser beam on this organization and whether laws have been violated."

Authorities seized the items during searches at the agency's headquarters and three other locations. They arrested Yosuf Maiwandi, a member of the agency's board of directors, on suspicion of perjury. Bail was set at $25,000 (euro19,690).

Whitmore declined to elaborate on the charge, saying the investigation was ongoing.

A message left for a San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority spokesman was not immediately returned.

Tuesday's developments followed last month's arrest of Carl Johan Freer, 35, a former business associate of Eriksson's accused of posing as a police officer to buy a gun. Authorities said he showed a badge to a gun dealer indicating he was a deputy commissioner of the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority.

Freer's attorney has denied wrongdoing on behalf of his client, and authorities have said Freer is cooperating with investigators.

Meanwhile, Eriksson appeared in court Tuesday on misdemeanor charges relating to a hit-and-run accident that occurred more than a month before the Ferrari crash. His arraignment was postponed to May 26.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Charles Palmer ordered Eriksson to stand trial on embezzlement and grand theft auto charges relating to the Feb. 21 Ferrari crash and for possessing two other luxury cars authorities claim he stole from British banks that held the titles.

His attorneys say Eriksson did not steal the cars and was negotiating a financial settlement with the banks before he was arrested last month. He was being held on $3 million (euro2.36 million) bail.

A court hearing was set for May 15.

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