HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Perez's Ex-Partner Reaches Plea Deals
Pubdate: Thu, 01 Mar 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Author: Matt Lait, Scott Glover, Twila Decker, Times Staff Writers
Bookmark: (L.A. Rampart Scandal)


Rampart: Nino Durden Confesses Numerous Crimes In Agreements That 
Could Lead To The Prosecution Of More Police Officers.

The former partner of disgraced ex-Los Angeles Police Officer Rafael 
Perez acknowledged his guilt in a wide range of state and federal 
crimes Friday in plea deals that potentially open the door to 
prosecutions of Perez and other Rampart Division officers.

Nino Durden, who is expected to serve a seven-year, eight-month 
sentence in federal prison, confirmed Perez's assertion that the two 
officers shot an unarmed man and then planted a weapon on him to 
cover their tracks. Durden admitted that he and Perez lied in court 
to help send Javier Francisco Ovando, who now uses a wheelchair, to 
prison on a 23-year sentence.

Durden, 32, also admitted guilt in other crimes--including 
conspiracy, perjury, grand theft and filing false police 
reports--growing out of three other incidents in which he said 
innocent people were either arrested or victimized.

Durden is the first officer besides Perez to receive a lengthy prison 
term in the collection of misdeeds known as the Rampart scandal. That 
alone would make Friday's announcement an important day in the probe, 
but a revelation that he is cooperating with authorities raises the 
possibility that more officers will go to prison.

"This is a very significant breakthrough in our investigation of 
police corruption in the Rampart Division," U.S. Atty. Alejandro 
Mayorkas told reporters at a news conference attended by LAPD Chief 
Bernard C. Parks, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and James V. DeSarno Jr., 
the head of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

Under the terms of Durden's deal with federal and state prosecutors, 
he will cooperate with ongoing corruption investigations.

Several law enforcement sources said Durden is expected to disclose 
incriminating information about other LAPD officers, including Perez.

In his agreement with the U.S. attorney, Durden, who resigned from 
the LAPD this month, acknowledged committing crimes with Perez and 
"other unindicted co-conspirators." He has already had several 
briefings with prosecutors, according to court documents.

"This is going to shake the tree," said one law enforcement source Friday.

Federal authorities hope to use Durden's testimony to prosecute Perez 
for the Ovando shooting, despite a plea deal Perez made with the 
district attorney's office in September 1999, according to 
high-ranking law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

However, any attempt to prosecute Perez in the Ovando case in federal 
court would be vigorously contested by his attorney, who argues that 
Perez's immunity deal with county prosecutors to avoid prison time 
prohibits such an action.

It was unclear Friday whether Durden would go as far as Perez has in 
implicating his former LAPD colleagues in wrongdoing, or support 
Perez's assertion that a band of rogue cops within the Rampart 
anti-gang unit routinely framed and beat suspects and covered up 
unjustified shootings.

"Is he going to give us other cops. I don't know," said one law 
enforcement source. "But what he does give us, I think, is Perez."

The development comes a week after three other Rampart officers were 
arrested and charged with crimes stemming from a 1998 beating of a 
gang member.

Two of the charged officers have already pleaded no contest to crimes 
in connection with the beating and have agreed to cooperate with 
authorities. The recent agreements with Durden and former Officers 
Shawn Gomez and Manuel Chavez could significantly advance the 
corruption investigation, which for several months has shown no 
obvious sign of progress.

At Friday's news conference, the county's top law enforcement leaders 
vowed to pursue the investigation wherever the information from the 
cooperating officers takes them.

"Corrupt police officers in [the LAPD], as in any law enforcement 
agency, are a cancer," DeSarno said. "Our goal is to locate the 
cancer, determine the size of the cancer and then remove the cancer, 
thereby leaving the remaining body healthy again."

For Chief Parks, Durden's admissions marked a bittersweet moment in 
the 18-month investigation.

"It is with some degree of encouragement yet sadness that we appear 
today," he said. "Sadness because the individual involved in being 
prosecuted is one of our own and he's been involved in some 
horrendous crimes and violated the oath of office that he took to 
protect and serve the citizens of the city of L.A."

Durden Remains Free on Bail

According to court documents released Friday, Durden, who remains 
free on bail, has admitted wrongdoing in four cases in which Perez 
had implicated him.

By far the highest-profile case is the Oct. 12, 1996 shooting of 
Ovando. That incident was the first one Perez talked about when he 
entered into a plea agreement, launching what is now known as the 
Rampart scandal.

Durden and Perez agree that they were conducting a stakeout in an 
abandoned building when they encountered the unarmed Ovando, shot 
him, planted a gun on him and falsely arrested him. The two corrupt 
officers, however, disagree on some of the key details, according to 
documents released Friday. For example, Perez has said Durden planted 
the gun on Ovando, but Durden says it was Perez.

Durden, as part of his plea, said he shot Ovando when he failed to 
obey his commands and made a quick turn in the officers' direction. 
Realizing that they had shot an unarmed man, Durden said, he and 
Perez conspired to cover it up.

Both Durden and Perez acknowledged that they had seized the weapon 
during an unrelated case and kept it.

Before they were interviewed by LAPD investigators examining the 
shooting, Durden said, he and Perez were left alone in a room at the 
police station about two hours, during which time they rehearsed 
their fabricated story.

Both Durden and Perez later lied in court, saying that Ovando, who 
was left paralyzed by the shooting, had attacked them. Ovando has 
since been released from prison and was awarded $15 million by the 
city to settle a civil lawsuit.

Although state prosecutors initially filed an attempted murder charge 
against Durden, Cooley said Friday that he and other prosecutors 
reviewed the case after the district attorney took office late last 
year and did not believe that the evidence supported such a charge. 
He said that allegation against Durden would have been dismissed, 
whether or not he entered the plea agreement.

Bill Seki, one of Durden's lawyers, said the ex-officer was relieved 
to finally tell his side of the story.

"He's extremely remorseful and extremely embarrassed," Seki said. 
"Now, he's taking responsibility for what he really did as opposed to 
what people perceive he did."

An example, Seki said, was the attempted-murder charge in the Ovando case.

"What we ended up pleading to is a far cry from [attempted murder]," 
the lawyer said. "That's because they finally heard his side of the 

Seki declined to speak in detail about any of the cases in which 
Durden admitted wrongdoing. He also refused to say whether Durden has 
implicated any officers other than Perez in crimes or misconduct.

"That would be inappropriate at this time," Seki said.

Winston Kevin McKesson, Perez's attorney, said he was not surprised 
that Durden's version of events was more favorable to himself than to 

"But, remember, it was my client who brought this all to light in the 
first place," McKesson said, referring to Perez's plea deal in the 
fall of 1999, which dictated that he could be charged with perjury 
for any false accusations against fellow officers. "It did not serve 
him to lie. It only served him to be completely truthful."

McKesson declined to comment on what effect Durden's testimony might 
have on a potential federal case against Perez.

"We have given our word [to federal prosecutors] that we weren't 
going to comment, and we're going to abide by that," McKesson said.

Perez was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing cocaine from 
LAPD evidence facilities. As part of his plea deal he cooperated with 
authorities in revealing a long string of alleged crimes that he, his 
partner Durden and other LAPD officers engaged in.

Durden, according to court papers, has admitted guilt in at least 
three cases in addition to Ovando's:

* On May 25, 1997, Durden said, he and Perez framed Jose Madrid on a 
weapons charge, saying the man possessed a fully loaded .38-caliber 
handgun when he did not. Madrid pleaded guilty to the charge and was 
sentenced to 16 months in prison.

* On April 2, 1997, Durden said, he and Perez threatened to arrest 
Jorge Toscano and his girlfriend, Cynthia Diaz, if they did not 
reveal the location of money hidden in their apartment. Toscano 
relented, and Durden and Perez stole $1,300 from the man, according 
to Durden.

* On Aug. 15, 1997, Durden said, he committed grand theft by stealing 
the property of a man named Grace Cox.

Guilty Pleas in 10 Federal, State Crimes

In all, Durden pleaded guilty to 10 federal and state crimes. He 
entered his state court plea Friday morning and is scheduled to be 
arraigned in federal court Monday.

His agreement with federal prosecutors was signed Thursday. As part 
of his deal with the state, Durden will get a seven-year, eight-month 
sentence in federal prison. U.S. guidelines suggest a 57- to 71-month 
sentence for his federal crimes, which he will serve concurrently 
with his state sentence.

Durden is believed to be a key player in the corruption scandal. 
According to Perez, he and Durden were literally partners in crime 
for more than a year.

In interviews with investigators, Perez said it was Durden who 
enticed him into dealing drugs one day in 1997 after the two had just 
arrested a drug dealer and seized a pound of powder cocaine.

Back at the police station, Perez said, the drug dealer's pager went 
off. Perez said he called the number, pretending to be an associate 
of the dealer--a common police ploy in which officers set up a deal 
and then arrest the would-be buyer.

In this case, the buyer wanted a quarter pound of cocaine. Perez made 
the arrangements and he and Durden got in their undercover car, a 
black Thunderbird, to go make "the deal" and arrest the suspect, 
Perez said.

But, according to Perez, "when we first got there, Durden said, 
'Screw it. Let's just sell to him.' And I completely agreed."

Perez said he and Durden kept the dealer's pager and made two more 
drug deals, netting about $10,000. Between transactions, Perez said, 
they stashed the cocaine in a cooler in the cot room at the Rampart 

What followed, Perez said, was an orgy of corruption in which the 
partners broke the law almost as frequently as they enforced it. 
Perez has said that about half the cases he worked at Rampart were 
tainted in one way or another.

Perez said he and Durden degenerated to the point that they didn't 
even trust one another, according to transcripts of Perez's 
interviews with investigators.

Perez said he became suspicious that when the two were shaking down 
suspects, Durden was keeping more than his share.

"In other words, he was skimming off the top of what we were supposed 
to skim," he said. And when Durden learned that Perez had branched 
out on his own and was stealing kilos of cocaine from LAPD evidence 
lockers, he became jealous, Perez said.

"I want in on it," he quoted Durden as saying. "Hook me up."

Throughout the transcripts, Perez speaks unflatteringly of his former 
partner, saying he once stole food stamps from one person and rent 
money from another.
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