Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Matt Krasnowski, Copley News Service
Note: Staff writer Sandra Dibble contributed to this report.


Informant Called Target Of Probe Of 3 Killings

LOS ANGELES -- As the first criminal trial stemming from this city's 
massive police corruption scandal began yesterday, investigators turned 
their attention to a Tijuana hillside trash heap where allegations of 
murder and dumped bodies have been linked to the government's star witness.

Federal agents are investigating contentions that Rafael Perez, an 
ex-officer who became an informant, and his former partner, David Mack, 
killed three people six years ago and buried the bodies on a garbage-filled 
hillside south of the border, sources familiar with the case said.

The allegations come from Perez's former girlfriend, Sonia Flores, and 
sources said they haven't been able to confirm or disprove her allegations.

A source familiar with the case said federal authorities have been 
discussing arrangements with Mexican officials on how a search of the area 
would be conducted. "We intend to go down there, but haven't worked out the 
final details," the source said on condition of anonymity.

A Mexican law enforcement source said that under a mutual legal assistance 
agreement between the nations, Mexican officials must conduct the search.

The new allegations against Perez could be a problem for prosecutors who 
are set to have the disgraced cop testify against the four police officers 
charged in the so-called Rampart Station corruption probe. Attorneys for 
the four officers and others have been attacking the credibility of Perez, 
a former Rampart-based, anti-gang unit member, for months.

Flores told investigators Perez shot and killed a young cocaine dealer who 
didn't turn over money he owed the officers. Then, she said, Mack shot the 
man's mother in the head as she sobbed over her dead son. Mack is serving a 
14-year prison sentence for a $720,000 bank robbery unrelated to the 
Rampart charges.

Two months later, Flores said, she joined the two officers as they drove 
the corpse of another woman Mack allegedly killed to Tijuana. The men 
purportedly told Flores they were going to dispose of the body where they 
buried the man and his mother.

Perez's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said Flores' allegations are 
"fantasy." Mack's lawyer couldn't be reached for comment.

Perez started the Rampart investigation when, a little more than a year 
ago, he struck a deal with prosecutors so he could get a lighter prison 
sentence on the charge that he stole cocaine from a police evidence locker. 
For his part of the deal, Perez began telling tales of corruption at the 
inner-city Rampart Station. He could be released from prison in February on 
his theft conviction.

His stories have led to more than 100 criminal convictions and charges 
being thrown out. More than 70 officers have been under investigation; 
about 20 have either been fired or have left the force. It's considered the 
department's worst corruption scandal.

As for his association with Mack, Perez has repeatedly told investigators 
he never witnessed any criminal activity by his former partner.

As jury selection in the trial of four officers began yesterday, an 
attorney for an accused officer jumped on Flores' account, telling a panel 
of 120 possible jurors that it showed Perez's ruthlessness.

"That is the kind of human being this prosecution is using against these 
officers," said defense attorney Harland Braun, who later called Perez "a 
very clever man who bamboozled and fooled the D.A.'s office into the deal 
of a lifetime."

Braun's statements came during opening statements attorneys made to the 
pool of potential jurors. Detailed screening of jurors begins next week. 
Longer opening statements will be allowed when a full panel is picked.

Officers Michael Buchanan, 30; Paul Harper, 33; and Sgts. Edward Ortiz, 42; 
and Brian Liddy, 39, are on trial on conspiracy, obstruction-of-justice and 
perjury charges in the framing of four people on various charges in 1996.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke told the jury pool that its 
attention should be on the conduct of the four officers, not on Perez.

Staff writer Sandra Dibble contributed to this report.
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