LOS ANGELES – They cased homes containing drugs, money and weapons like suspects in any other robbery ring, prosecutors say.
But instead of donning ski masks and stealing through windows in the dead of night, the robbers allegedly wore police uniforms and badges as they carried out raids that authorities say were intended to appear like official law enforcement searches. Five of the suspects were sworn officers at the time.
Nineteen people have been charged in the ring, led by then-Los Angeles police Officer Ruben Palomares, prosecutors said Thursday in announcing the results of a four-year investigation.
Palomares and his associates are accused of targeting locations where people were suspected of selling drugs, then gaining access by saying they were conducting a legitimate police search before stealing valuables, prosecutors said.
"While this story sounds like a script from 'The Shield' or 'Training Day,' it actually happened here in L.A.," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien.
A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted six people, and those arrested were a former sheriff's deputy now on leave from the state Department of Corrections and two fired officers from the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments. Three people who were indicted are still being sought.
The defendants 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.
Thirteen people charged earlier include Palomares, 36; two of Palomares' cousins; and Jesse Moya, 29, a former LAPD officer who agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge in 2004.
Palomares and Moya "are traitors to the badge that the men and women of this department so proudly wear, traitors to their fellow officers, but most importantly, traitors to the public trust," Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton said.
Authorities contend that Palomares supplied the group with uniforms, radios and even badges to carry out the raids. In some cases, members drove to targeted drug houses in official LAPD cars. Victims were allegedly restrained, threatened and sometimes beaten while the group scoured the houses for drugs, weapons and money.
Stolen property included 600 pounds of marijuana, TVs, jewelry, money and rifles from Los Angeles County sites, prosecutors said.
Palomares already is serving 15 years in prison for drug trafficking and weapons crimes dating from 2001.
"He has accepted full responsibility for his roles in these misdeeds," said Palomares' attorney Winston Kevin McKesson.