HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug-Sting Videos Cast Straight-Arrow Officers In Ugly
Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2001
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2001 The Dallas Morning News
Contact:  P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas   75265
Fax: (972) 263-0456
Author: David McLemore


Family, friends testify to men's good character in San Antonio court

Most don't drink or smoke. They coach youth baseball teams. They are praised
as the kind of police officers any community could be proud of. According to
federal prosecutors, however, they were also willing to protect drug dealers
and escort loads of cocaine for a price.

During a lengthy detention hearing Monday, federal prosecutors provided
samples of video surveillance that showed some of San Antonio's finest
offering a drug dealer they knew only as "Ricardo" from Chicago their
services as bodyguards and escorts for cocaine shipments and receiving
payment for their efforts.

Unknown to the officers, Ricardo was an FBI agent working a three-year sting
operation on corrupt cops.

"The undercover operator posed as a mid-level cocaine trafficker who sought
help in protecting cocaine shipments," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David
Counts. "These members of the San Antonio Police Department readily agreed
to provide protection, even though Ricardo took special care to ensure each
member of the conspiracy knew it was supposedly cocaine they were protecting
and escorting."

Arrested and charged with conspiracy in the alleged protection scheme were
patrol Sgt. Conrad Fragozo Jr., 36; patrol Officers Patrick Bowron, 27,
Peter Saenz, 31, Arthur Gutierrez Jr., 38, Lawrence Bustos, 37, and Manuel
Cedillo Jr., 35; and Edward Fragozo, 37, uncle of Sgt. Fragozo's.

Separately indicted on other drug, firearms and corruption charges were
Officers Alfred Valdes and David A. Morales, as well as former reserve
deputy county Constable Gilbert Andrade Jr. and civilian Albert Mata. All
are being held without bond.

A 12th defendant, Bexar County Deputy Richard R. Buchannan, 44, is free on
bond on charges that he broke into a vehicle to steal $2,000 in cash.

The investigation began in 1997 after FBI agents received information that
members of the San Antonio Police Department were willing to commit crimes
for money, Mr. Counts said.

During the hearing Monday, he showed fuzzy videos depicting what appear to
be officers meeting with Ricardo and waiting around San Antonio hotel rooms
for delivery of what were supposedly bricks of cocaine. The videos also
showed them counting their payoffs, as well as demonstrating their 9 mm
Glock service pistols, patting down undercover officers posing as drug
dealers and helping load wrapped bricks of what appeared to be cocaine in
plastic bags.

In one video, after Ricardo is shown counting out several thousand dollars
to a man prosecutors said was Sgt. Fragozo, the sham drug dealer asked the
man whether he had any second thoughts about protecting cocaine loads. "No,"
the man said. "As long as I don't have to see it or touch it."

The courtroom was packed with dozens of family members and friends who
tearfully testified that the defendants were good, decent men. Officer
Gutierrez's family portrayed him as a fiercely loyal son and friend who
didn't smoke and refused to let anyone smoke in the presence of his sons.

"Art is a man of integrity," said the Rev. Jimmy Drennan, a former policeman
who became a Catholic priest. "I would do anything to help him. I would
dedicate my life to helping defend him."

The drug arrests last week sent shock waves through the law enforcement
community. It is the worst police scandal since 1981, when six officers and
a former patrol officer were arrested marijuana smuggling charges.

Bill Blagg, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said the
arrests demonstrated that no one is above the law. "The evidence will show
that these officers were renting out their badges and their guns," Mr. Blagg
said. "My hope is that the community won't judge the 99 percent of law
enforcement who perform their dangerous jobs with courage and integrity."

The officers are not rookies. Sgt. Fragozo, with 15 years, is the most
experienced. Officer Bowron, at five years, is the most junior.

The alleged payoffs for the illegal activity were relatively small,
authorities said.

According to the indictment, Sgt. Fragozo led a conspiracy consisting of
Officers Bowron, Saenz, Gutierrez, Bustos, Cedillo and Sgt. Fragozo's uncle,
Edward Fragozo, that included efforts to transport drug shipments on nine
occasions from Jan. 13, 2000, to Dec. 20. On at least one such delivery, one
of the officers allegedly used his patrol car. In return, the men allegedly
received between $2,000 to $6,500 in cash from the sham drug dealers.

In a separate indictment, Officer Valdes accused of providing undercover
federal agents he believed to be drug dealers with information available to
him as a police officer. In return, he was allegedly paid $800. Officer
Morales is accused of carrying his service pistol while transporting what he
believed to be 5 kilograms of cocaine on two occasions in early 1999. He
allegedly was paid $5,000.

Officer Andrade is charged with carrying supposed cocaine from a bus station
to a San Antonio hotel on Aug. 15, 1999, for $2,000. Mr. Mata is accused of
carrying shipments of supposed cocaine twice in April 1998 from the San
Antonio International Airport to a nearby hotel for $1,000 each time.

Deputy Buchannan is the one accused of breaking into a car on July 14, 1998,
to steal $2,000 in cash.
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