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rafael perez - in the eye of the storm by rick young

Young was the co-producer of "L.A.P.D. Blues."
At the epicenter of the Rampart scandal sits Rafael Perez. His allegations of wide-spread corruption within L.A.P.D. specialized units, particularly in the Rampart anti-gang CRASH unit he served, ignited what was quickly coined "the worst scandal in the history of the L.A.P.D.." While the true scope of the scandal may never be known, there is little doubt about the magnitude of outfall his story has wrought - nearly 100 convictions overturned, with thousands more under review; millions of dollars in settlement costs yet to be paid; and major police reforms, monitored by the federal court, soon to be undertaken. Who is Rafael Perez?

Rafael Perez was born in Puerto Rico and, at a young age, moved to New Jersey and then Philadelphia, where after high school he joined the Marines. "As far back as I can remember I knew I wanted to be a police officer," Perez told the L.A. Times last December. "I just didn't know how I was going to get there."

With a marriage and a military transfer, Perez landed in Los Angeles and, in 1989, joined the L.A.P.D.. He was a squad leader in his Academy class; he was a good cop and well liked, according to those who knew him. In the early 1990s, Perez - who went by "Ray" on the force - began working undercover assignments on the narcotics "buy team." He partnered with Officer David Mack, who would later be convicted of bank robbery, and the two bonded strongly, personally and professionally. Perez credited Mack with saving his life during a "buy" that turned deadly.

In 1995, Perez joined the Rampart anti-gang CRASH unit. There, Perez says, he discovered and eventually became immersed in a cauldron of police misconduct. According to Perez, he first began stealing drug money at the urging of his partner, Nino Durden [Durden has told federal investigators that Perez was the instigator]. One thing led to the next, and by 1998, Perez was stealing and dealing pounds of cocaine.

Arrested and facing the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence, Perez cut a deal with prosecutors and, in the course of 35 interviews, began to unspool a story of widespread police misconduct ("believe me when I tell you, if there was 15 officers in CRASH, 13 of them were putting cases on people").

At his sentencing in February, 2000, Perez marketed his version of what went wrong. He offered apologies and accepted blame. But, he also blamed the "intoxicant" of police power. "The us-against-them ethos of the overzealous cop began to consume me. And the ends justified the means," he told the court. "We vaguely sensed we were doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Time and again, I stepped over that line. Once crossed, I hurdled over it again and again, landing with both feet sometimes on innocent persons. My job became an intoxicant that I lusted after."

While investigators have corroborated some of what Perez has alleged, they have also, they say, found many inconsistencies in his statements. Over the course of the ongoing investigation, Perez's credibility has come under increasing scrutiny. He failed every question on five polygraphs (two polygraph experts believe the tests were improperly administered) and several jail-house informants have testified that Perez boasted of retaliating against the L.A.P.D. and burning cops he didn't like. Investigators have come to believe that Perez has been less than truthful, even cunningly artful in directing the course of the investigation. "He was very self-assured, very cocky. The type of person who wanted to take charge at all time," says lead detective, Brian Tyndall. "We knew he was an admitted, at this time, liar, perjurer. We knew he was a thief. He was a con. That's the best way of probably of describing him. The best word I could use."

"You can't trust Rafael Perez," says Dep. DA Richard Rosenthal, who prosecuted Perez and sat in on most of the debriefings. "He's a perjurer. He is a dope dealer. He's a thief, among any other numerous adjectives you could come up with that would negatively describe his personality."

Perez is no longer cooperating with investigators. On July 24, 2001, he was released from prison and placed on parole after serving nearly three years of his five-year sentence. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled that due to safety concerns, Perez could serve his parole outside the state of California. However, federal prosecutors have cut a deal with Perez's former partner, Nino Durden, whose testimony may now be used to bring further charges against Rafael Perez.

Listen to audio excerpts from Perez's interviews with investigators.
Read Perez's statement at his sentencing.

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