Pubdate: Fri, 13 Oct 2000
Source: LA Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Los Angeles Weekly, Inc.
Contact:  323 465-3220
Address: P.O. Box 4315, L.A., CA 90078
Website: http://www.laweekly.com/
Author: Charles Rappleye
Bookmark: additional articles on the LA police corruptions are available at 
http://www.mapinc.org/rampart.htm

RAMPART RUNNETH OVER

New Allegations Hound Rafael Perez

Late in the afternoon of February 6, 1996, a gangbanger and midlevel hustler
named Miguel Malfavon stepped onto the patio of a McDonald's restaurant at
the corner of Temple and Alvarado streets, in the northeast section of the
Rampart District. There was traffic on the street, there were people eating;
a couple with a child strolled down the sidewalk. 

Quietly, someone in the apartment complex just to the north of the
restaurant pulled a handgun. The couple on the sidewalk cried, in Spanish,
"Oh my God," and in the same instant, two shots rang out. On the McDonald's
patio, a second man produced a handgun and began blasting. Sonya Flores,
then 18 years old, was nearly caught in the crossfire, but managed to
stumble into the restaurant. 

Police arrived two minutes later to find Malfavon dying on the patio floor,
and Flores shaking, her clothes splattered with his blood. While patrol
officers and detectives cleared the scene, CRASH Officers Rafael Perez and
Sammy Martin took Flores into their custody and drove her to the station six
blocks away. 

There they conducted a momentous interview. Within hours, Flores had named
four shooters. She repeated those identifications in court four months
later, and all four, along with an alleged accomplice, went to prison, where
they remain to this day. 

The convictions decimated the leadership of the Temple Street gang, among
the oldest street gangs in all of Los Angeles. The case went on the books as
a shining victory for CRASH, the kind of kick-ass law enforcement the unit
was established to provide. 

Now, almost five years later, Flores has come forward to say those
identifications were fraudulent -- that Perez pressured her to name several
of the assailants, and that she went along. It's a new twist on what has
become the Rampart routine: This time it's the star witness in a
multiple-felony arrest who says the perpetrators were framed, and Rafael
Perez who contends that the convictions were authentic. 

Flores is a figure who has come to haunt Rafael Perez. She told
investigators in January that she had taken up with Perez when she was just
16 years old, that she had become pregnant by him and had an abortion, and
that she was "in love" with Perez at the time of the McDonald's shooting.
And in just the past month, it was Flores who said she was present when
Perez and his former partner David Mack shot and killed a drug dealer and a
woman who appeared to be the dealer's mother, then took the bodies and
buried them in Tijuana. 

That alleged double homicide, described to investigators and to the L.A.
Times, is now the subject of a federal investigation. If proven at trial,
those murders would break Perez's immunity deal, leaving him open to
prosecution for all his various crimes and ending his run as reformed,
contrite malefactor. 

But the McDonald's shooting itself, and the allegation that Perez
manipulated the case, could come to reshape the broader picture of the
Rampart scandal. According to another new voice, a Temple Street veteran,
the McDonald's shooting was staged to eliminate the rivals to Perez's own
burgeoning criminal enterprise. 

That scenario is suggested by Flores, but is expressed in detail by Ruben
Rojas, who was among the first convicts released from prison after the
Rampart scandal came to light. Rojas, whom Perez admitted framing on a drug
charge, told investigators last November that Perez was the chief architect
of a criminal conspiracy that involved at least half a dozen Rampart cops in
the street sale of cocaine. They were operating in the Temple Street
district, and the local gang was getting in the way. 

Rojas went further, contending that the actual shooter at McDonald's was
Perez himself. That claim was dismissed, in part because Perez and Flores
both maintained the identifications in the case were legit. Now, however,
Flores has thrown the official version of the McDonald's murder into doubt. 

NONE of these new developments can be taken at face value. In a now-familiar
Rampart conundrum, all of the voices here belong to hustlers and admitted
perjurers. Perez, of course, has lied for years, in court and out. And Ruben
Rojas is an ex-con and longtime member of a criminal street gang. When
pressed, he attributes most of his allegations to "word on the street," or,
simply, "word." 

Sonya Flores now tells investigators that she engaged in an elaborate lie
during a court hearing and that she stood by as Perez and Mack, who would
soon turn bank robber, murdered a drug dealer and his mother. 

Her story has evolved in stages. Early this year, she admitted for the first
time that she had a continuing relationship with Perez, and had seen him do
drugs at the Rampart crash pad, but still insisted that her original
testimony in the McDonald's case was valid. Flores was asked by detectives,
"Nobody told you what to say or what to do, or who to point out?" 

"No," she replied. 

"All the police or detectives ever asked you was to tell the truth?" 

"That's right." 

"And that's what you did?" 

"And that's what I did." Now, Flores says that's not what she did at all. 

Clearly, both Flores and Ruben Rojas have their own agendas -- both have
long ties to the Temple Street gang, and both have personal reason to seek
vengeance against the rogue cop. As one attorney in the case observed of
Rojas, "He's a pawn in a big game, and I don't know who's moving the
pieces." Yet their accounts are also intriguing. For more than a year, Perez
was able to narrate the story of his corruption himself, contradicted only
by the fellow cops he's accused of misconduct. Now Flores and Rojas have
come forward to suggest even darker tones to the story. 

The statements from Flores and Rojas surfaced in public view in September,
put on the record by Art Goldberg, an Echo Park lawyer then representing
Anthony Adams, one of those convicted in the McDonald's shooting. Neither
Flores nor Rojas would agree to an interview with the Weekly; this story is
based on court documents and their interviews with investigators. 

Already frazzled by nature, to judge from his rumpled suits and flyaway
hair, Goldberg is sorely pressed for time these days, dividing his energy
between his criminal law practice and his current campaign to succeed his
sister Jackie on the L.A. City Council. But Goldberg will stop long enough
to discuss how he flushed out this volatile new fuel for the long-smoldering
Rampart story. 

Goldberg said he first heard of Flores and her connection to Perez sometime
late last year, through neighborhood contacts he'd developed over years in
criminal practice in the Rampart District. He mounted a vigorous attack on
what he saw as Perez's manipulation of Flores as a witness in his original
writ, filed last January 28. In addition, Goldberg learned of Ruben Rojas'
allegations when he briefly joined Greg Yates as co-counsel to Adams. Yates
represents Rojas in civil proceedings against the city. 

Still, Goldberg said he was surprised when he received a package last month
containing D.A. transcripts of extended interviews with Rojas and Flores. He
was even more stunned that there was no accompanying court order barring
their release. "I realized they had messed up," he said, especially when the
D.A. scheduled a hearing for the next Monday to request an order keeping
them secret. 

Goldberg said he recognized instantly that, if they became public, the
transcripts could alter the entire shape of the Rampart case, possibly
leading to a new round of revelations and winning his client a new hearing.
So he called the Times and invited reporters to publicize Flores' and Rojas'
statements. "Every time you open stuff like this up, it all starts to come
out!" he declared with obvious glee. 

The gambit paid off in court last week. For the first time since Rampart hit
the headlines a year ago, Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler, who's issued
repeated "protective orders" barring public disclosure of investigative
materials on Perez and his associates, dropped all restrictions on access to
"any new materials relating to Rafael Perez or David Mack." 

"Let the investigations begin," Fidler told an audience of more than a dozen
representatives of the defense bar, including representatives of the public
defender, as well as the district attorney, the city attorney and the U.S.
Department of Justice. 

Asked later what factors he thought finally forced the Flores commentaries
to the surface, Goldberg said the "internal struggle between the police and
the district attorney" had delayed the release, but could not do so
indefinitely. After all, there was intense human drama at work. "This
statement really came out of her anger at being put down by Perez," Goldberg
said of Flores' statement. "It's a woman scorned that really opened this
whole thing up." 

THE YEAR 1996 found Rafael Perez 28 years old, three years into his second
marriage -- to an LAPD dispatch operator -- and 10 months into the Rampart
CRASH unit. His assignment was Temple Street, a multiethnic gang of roughly
275 young men that ranged along the south side of Sunset Boulevard from
Alvarado Street to Hoover Street. 

That was the official version. Perez was, by his own account and according
to Flores and Rojas, carrying on at the same time a multifaceted secret
life. By her account, Flores was a big part of it. Although Perez insists he
had sex with Flores just one time, she says they had an ongoing
relationship, and her account is corroborated in part by a former roommate
who told police investigators in September that Flores had openly discussed
her boyfriend, and that she herself met Perez three times. 

Flores says the relationship started in 1994, when Perez carded her as an
underage patron at the Pan American nightclub, just a couple of blocks from
the Rampart station. She was living with her brother in an apartment nearby,
and quickly fell for the dark, handsome cop. Perez brought her by the crash
pad he maintained with fellow officer Sammy Martin, and she became a regular
visitor. Martin, she said, would take her aside and warn her against the
pitfalls of entering a sexual relationship at such a young age, but she
ignored him. She said she was in love. 

Flores also claims that Perez had a professional interest in her as well.
She had detailed and continuing knowledge of the Temple Street hierarchy,
and she told police investigators that "Perez utilized [Flores] to provide
him with information regarding the Temple Street gang." 

Toward the middle of 1995, Flores went to a nightclub with a friend and was
surprised to find Perez there with another woman. She vowed then to leave
him, but soon after discovered she was pregnant. When she told Perez her
period was two months late, he suggested she get an abortion. He drove her
to a clinic and dropped her off, but once the procedure was complete, she
took the bus home. 

Once again, she decided to stay away from Perez, but when she saw him again
at a nightclub several months later, she couldn't resist his advances. Weeks
after that she moved in with the man who became her common-law husband, but,
she says, she continued to see Perez. As she later told investigators, she
would answer his call to come and meet him "regardless of the time, day or
night." 

Ruben Rojas knew both Perez and Flores during this time, both of them at a
distance, in his capacity as a street operator with a criminal record. In
addition, he says he had an inside source for information on Perez --
according to Rojas, the two shared a girlfriend. "At first I wasn't aware
that this woman was involved with Officer Perez," Rojas told investigators.
"So when I met this woman, she indicated to me the first night that she was
seeing some man and that this man was, you know, taking money from friends
of mine that she knew . . . She kept telling me about her boyfriend who used
to, uh, was taking people's drugs, delivering them on the streets." 

Rojas says he first encountered Perez in the summer of 1994, soon after
Rojas' release from state prison, when he was walking with a fellow Temple
Street gangbanger named Anthony Adams. According to Rojas, Perez and his
partner, Nino Durden, first asked them if they had drugs on them. "We didn't
have anything with us, so what they did is they, they smashed our face
against the wall and started disrespecting our neighborhood and started
screaming out Rampart this, Rampart that, and they just got in their car and
left." In the interviews, Rojas uses "our neighborhood" as a synonym for the
Temple Street gang. 

It was the beginning of a series of encounters that left Rojas fearful of
the CRASH unit, and convinced that the police were engaged in the drug
trade. "In '94, Perez and Durden, Officer Mack, Officer Hewitt and other
officers were involved in a drug organization that was coming out of Rampart
Police Station," Rojas told investigators last November. 

He described how the operation worked. "They had their enforcers . . . Their
strategy was to go into the neighborhood, arrest as many people as they
possibly can, beat the crap out of 'em, turn them into informants. Once you
are an informant, they can put practically anything on you. So they will
tell you, 'Look, we're gonna make you a deal. You sell for us, we'll protect
you and we'll get everybody you feel that's a threat off the streets.'" 

The goal, Rojas said, was profit. "Rampart police CRASH unit wanted my
neighborhood because my neighborhood, at that time, was like MacArthur Park,
a million-dollar industry." 

As for Flores, Rojas claims he knew her as an operator in Perez's
organization. "Sonya Flores was a drug trafficker for Perez and Durden," he
told police investigators. He also knew her as an associate of Temple
Street, and as one of Perez's girlfriends, one of five he could name. Rojas
told the investigators that Perez had a way with women. "All of them, if you
notice, well, all these women are very gorgeous, they're pretty. They're
very lovely, man." 

MIGUEL MALFAVON was 36 years old, a veteran of the Diamond Street gang who
went by the street moniker "Lizard" and, by several accounts, a "rent
collector" for the Mexican Mafia. That meant that his line of work involved
keeping track of the level of drug activity in a given district and making
sure the "Eme," as the Mexican Mafia is known, received its cut. 

Malfavon's district was Temple Street. The place he made connections was a
relatively small McDonald's outlet on Alvarado Street a block south of the
Hollywood Freeway. There are just a dozen tables inside the store and the
same number outside, on a patio under a heavy wooden trellis. Next to the
patio lies a drive-through lane, and then a sidewalk where, even today,
Temple Street associates do a brisk business selling fake identification to
illegal immigrants. 

On the afternoon of February 6, 1996, Malfavon apparently walked into an
ambush, though it's never been clear who was gunning for him, and why.
Flores told the police that the Temple Street clique was tired of paying off
the Eme and decided to end the tithes with an emphatic message. She also
suggested that one of the Temple Street gang had a personal grudge against
Malfavon, though the details of her story have changed over the years. 

According to Flores, she was hanging around the McDonald's for hours that
afternoon and saw the whole episode unfold. She said she noticed one Temple
Street associate -- the man who ran the local racket in fake IDs -- was
looking "nervous," and when she inquired why, he told her the Eme was
expected to show up. Soon after, she said, a Temple Street gang member
approached her and "asked if I had seen some guys . . . the guys from the
Mexican Mafia." Flores said she had prior knowledge that this gangster was
plotting against the rent collector, and spent two hours beforehand trying
to dissuade him. Then, she said, she called Perez to warn him of trouble
brewing but was unable to reach him. 

The plot thus in motion, Flores said the gangster left the McDonald's and
took up a position in a nearby apartment building -- at one point, she said,
in the bushes, at another, in a window -- providing a narrow vantage looking
through the trellis beams onto the patio tables. Soon after, Malfavon drove
up in a beige Mercury sedan, walked to the patio with an associate and sat
at a table with two Temple Street regulars called "Coco" and "Porky." 

Then the shooting started. Malfavon was struck several times the fatal shot
was to the head, apparently from a high-powered rifle fired from the
neighboring apartment building. Flores and two other witnesses also
testified that they saw somebody on the patio draw a gun and begin shooting
-- one witness said northbound, toward the tan Mercury, or toward the
apartment building. The crew from Temple Street then jumped into a van and
fled. 

Rafael Perez and other Rampart officers arrived at the scene in less than
two minutes. Since the blood on her dress made her a material witness,
Flores was initially grabbed, handcuffed and placed in a squad car by
Officer Robert Arcos. In the end, she was the only witness who said she
could identify the gang members at the scene. She made a brief statement to
Arcos, saying Temple Street gangsters were behind the shooting, but named
none of them. 

Perez and partner Sammy Martin stepped in immediately, took the cuffs off
Flores and drove her to the Rampart detective's station, where the CRASH
unit was headquartered at Third Street and Union Avenue. There Perez
conducted a detailed interview, providing her with photos from the CRASH
gang book and eliciting several identifications. Later that evening, having
thus been prompted, Flores was finally interviewed on tape, with Perez,
Martin and two detectives. At that time she named four gangbangers by their
monikers -- "Blackie," "Coco," "Porky" and "Demon." Blackie, she said, was
the gangbanger with the grudge, the one who shot from the apartment
building. 

It was a sloppy round of identifications. Blackie was indeed a Temple Street
gangbanger, but in the space of two weeks, his name disappeared from the
record of the case. In his place, as the shooter and the Temple Street
member with the grudge against Malfavon, Flores named Anthony Adams --
Goldberg's client -- who went by the street name "Stymie." Further, it
turned out that Demon, the moniker for a Temple Streeter named Geovany
Velasquez, could not have been on the scene because Velasquez was in prison
at the time. Lastly, the Coco she selected was not the same person known on
the street as Coco. 

The detectives investigating the case met with Flores two days later. They
had learned Velasquez was in jail. By the end of the interview, Demon was
replaced by Dracky, whose real name is Jesse Alvarez, who had an alibi --
three witnesses who could place him well away from the scene, according to
his attorney, Javier Ramirez. 

Sometime thereafter -- it's not clear when -- Blackie was replaced by
Anthony Adams. The first reference in the record to Stymie is in a typed
follow-up report composed by Perez, March 9, and purporting to reconstruct
his initial interview with Flores. There was no tape of that meeting, and
Perez took no notes. To attorney Goldberg, this was Perez's brazen -- and
successful -- bid to frame Adams. 

The confused identifications showed up in the LAPD's own record and became
an issue when the case reached a preliminary hearing in June of 1996. Three
defense attorneys grilled Flores and Perez on their shaky and shifting
identifications. But Perez was a practiced witness, and Superior Court Judge
Glenette Blackwell bound the case over for trial. A fifth defendant, Cesar
Menendez, was added to the case in August 1996, on the strength of
fingerprints placing him at the scene. Menendez joined in the guilty plea in
December 1997. His attorney says Menendez is innocent. 

Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace then went to work. All five defendants
faced murder charges that could land them in jail for life. The alternative
was to plead guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, meaning they
would be sentenced to 12 years in prison. To Andrew Stein, an attorney now
representing Jorge "Porky" Alvarez, the evidence presented never warranted a
conviction for his client. "The case casts horrible aspersions on the entire
criminal justice system." Stein points out that Alvarez had never before
been arrested, and agreed to plead only under the coercive terms of the
deal. "The federal government doesn't allow packaged deals for just that
reason." 

SONYA FLORES has now come forward with a new explanation of how she made
such a mess of the identifications that night at the Rampart station. They
were fabricated, she says, names that Perez was pulling out of the gang
book. 

A summary of her statement to investigators from the LAPD Rampart Task
Force, recorded September 5 and made public last week, recounts the
post-shooting interviews as follows: 

Flores "said that she knowingly committed perjury during her testimony
regarding the murder that occurred outside of the McDonald's restaurant.
Perez and Martin took [Flores] to an interview room at Rampart Detectives
and showed her different photographs. [Flores] was only able to positively
identify one of the shooters. Perez then left the room and returned with
additional photographs. [Flores] was told by Perez to positively identify
two additional photographs as suspects in the murder." 

Some time later, Flores "recalled Perez taking her to the L.A. County Jail
to participate in a live lineup. Perez showed her pictures of the
individuals he wanted her to point out . . . During this lineup [Flores]
picked the individuals Perez had instructed her to choose." 

The police interview is fairly limited in scope, and never addresses the
question of why Perez might have so thoroughly tampered with the McDonald's
case, or what really happened at the McDonald's restaurant that day. It
does, however, touch glancingly on why Perez might have cared. As Flores
told investigators, "Perez was interested in the money that was being
generated by narcotics in the area." Of course, as a CRASH officer, Perez
would naturally have an "interest" in narcotics traffic. But as Flores
explained further, Perez was also aware of the gang's traffic in forged
immigration documents. Flores said, "Perez was aware of this illegal
activity and wanted a piece of the action. Perez made this statement to
[Flores] and to one of the top Temple Street gang members." 

Here we get echoes of Ruben Rojas. Perez and his cohorts, Rojas told
investigators last November, "wanted my neighborhood, because my
neighborhood, at that time, was like MacArthur Park, a million-dollar
industry. They were trying to take over. There were cops that watched maybe
too much internal affairs, you know, but that's what they wanted to do.
Believe it, that's what they thought they could do." 

Rojas had a specific interest in what happened at McDonald's, because
Anthony Adams -- Stymie -- was a close friend. 

Rojas says that Adams was a poor choice to frame for that slaying, claiming
he was out of state at the time. In fact, Adams was not arrested until May
of 1997, and in New Mexico, where he was serving time in prison, but by that
time he was unable to prove his whereabouts 15 months before. 

Rojas described the McDonald's incident in his interview with detectives
last year. His story is disjointed and rambling, broken up by detectives as
well as his own attorney, but on his main allegations he is quite clear --
that the CRASH unit set up the entire incident, and Perez himself shot
Malfavon. 

"Perez and Martin set it up," Rojas says. 

"Okay," a detective answers. 

"Perez and Martin committed the murder." 

"Okay." 

"But they blamed it on my neighborhood."  

"Okay." 

Deputy D.A. Richard Rosenthal asked Rojas, "Now, did Officer Perez and
Martin do the shooting or did they order the killing, or do you even know?" 

Rojas responded, "Martin ordered the shooting, but it was Perez that did the
killing." 

Rosenthal asked the obvious question: "How do you know?" 

Rojas: "How do I know? Let's just say this, my friend was framed for that
murder." 

The investigators followed Rojas' lead and they discussed the predicament of
Anthony Adams. Rojas was then pressed again on his more pointed accusation.
"Did you see Perez shoot?" 

"No, I did not." 

"Did somebody on the street or in the neighborhood tell you specifically
that Perez shot Lizard?" 

"Yes, they did." 

"Do you want to tell us who that person is?" 

"I cannot. The name I cannot say." 

"Okay. Because you're fearful for that person's safety?" 

"For mine." 

Rojas was not put off by the detectives' skepticism. "I could say this much
right now: Perez is a fucking killer. Excuse my language, but Perez is the
one that pulled the trigger." 

Perez's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said his client "flat-out denies
these allegations." McKesson pointed out that as part of Perez's plea
bargain, he categorically denies any illegal acts to which he has not
already confessed. Hewitt's attorney, Paul DePasquale, said he could not
comment on the charges. Martin's attorney could not be reached for comment. 

AFTER THE McDonald's homicide, Perez continued to press his campaign against
Temple Street. The next April, Perez filed new charges alleging that
suspects in the case had located Flores at her home in Huntington Park and
threatened her if she dared take the stand against them. Named by Perez were
Anthony Adams, who was still at large; Victor Hernandez, the "Lil Blackie"
in Flores' original, bogus identification; and yet another Temple Street
character, Rene Mationg. 

The three defendants denied any such effort to intimidate Flores, and hired
a private investigator who showed that the address Perez reported for Flores
did not exist in Huntington Park. The claim was complicated by the fact that
nobody knew exactly where Flores did live, because she spent much of that
time in Perez's "protective" custody. As the months went by, when detectives
sought to get in touch with Flores, they simply called Perez. 

Perez pressed on. In interviews with detectives last November, Perez
described the alleged witness intimidation, and then said, "I later arrested
everyone that was involved in that crime. And I also arrested some of the
ones that were involved in the actual murder. I think there were five
defendants in the murder. I arrested several of them." 

The campaign against Temple Street continued on through December, when all
five McDonald's defendants entered no-contest pleas and were sentenced to
prison. Along the way, Perez went after Rojas himself. 

The arrest was initiated by a phone call, Rojas said. He was alone, at his
mother's apartment, and a voice came on the line, in Spanish. "He told me
not to be messing around with another man's girlfriend," Rojas recalled
later. "I knew exactly who he was referring to." Minutes later, Perez burst
into the apartment, pointed the barrel of a shotgun into Rojas' side and
placed him under arrest. He was accompanied by CRASH officers Durden, Doyle
Stepp, Michael Buchanan and several more, along with a Sergeant Guerrero. 

Perez later confessed that the Rojas bust was "entirely fabricated." When he
was asked why such a large crew of officers was present, he answered, "Just
in case there were five or six other gang members in the house." 

THIS was a period of increasing depravity for Perez -- he shot an unarmed
Javier Ovando in October 1996, and by 1997 he was obtaining his drugs
directly from the Rampart evidence locker, the crime for which he was
eventually busted. 

In September of 1999, with one trial behind him and another pending, Perez
finally agreed to talk. The most heinous crime he confessed to was his
unprovoked shooting of Ovando -- that one he used to clinch his deal,
telling the D.A. he would name Ovando only if he received a reduced
sentence. 

Since then, Perez has done most of the talking -- about himself, and about
the crimes he alleges were committed by his fellow officers. All that
changed with the release of the statements by Flores and Rojas. The question
now is whom to believe, and how fully. 

The whole exercise might seem almost academic if federal investigators find
evidence to charge Perez with the double homicide that Flores has alleged.
But Rojas has talked about a lot more than the McDonald's shooting. There's
the drug racket, with the systematic extortion of confidential informants.
Rojas alleges a half-dozen officers, as well as ranking supervisors --
sergeants, detectives and a lieutenant -- participated in the scheme. 

And that may be the darkest irony to emerge at this late juncture in this
ever-shifting story. If true, these new allegations show the Rampart scandal
to run deeper, wider and longer than anything suggested so far. But if a new
indictment is brought against Perez, the district attorney's effort to
prosecute other Rampart cops would surely collapse. At this point, at
Rampart, truth and justice may be headed in opposite directions.

MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk