Authorities Probe Illegal Weapons Sales Involving Officers

by Paul Chavez, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A joint investigation has found that police officers from several California law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, may have been involved in the sale of illegal assault weapons.

It wasn't immediately disclosed how many officers were involved or whether any were suspended.

The Police Department, in a statement released Wednesday night, said detectives launched an investigation before June 2001 into activities surrounding the sale of illegal weapons. Investigators became aware of the activities after conducting routine audits of all gun dealers licensed in the city.

During the investigation, detectives learned that agents from the state Department of Justice were conducting a similar criminal investigation. The law enforcement agencies later agreed that the state agents would assume the lead role in the probe.

Justice Department spokeswoman Hallye Jordan confirmed the agency's investigation into the selling of illegal assault weapons has led to evidence that law enforcement officers may have been involved in their illegal purchase and transfer.

In early December, the agency arrested two people, including a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, Jordan said.

Deputy Kresimir Kovac, 33, was charged with one count of conspiracy to offer an assault weapon for sale, four counts of illegally offering for sale or selling assault weapons and 18 counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, said Orange County District Attorney spokeswoman Tori Richards.

Kovac has pleaded innocent to the charges.

The Sheriff's Department did not return a call seeking comment, but Kovac's lawyer said the deputy is a seven-year veteran who was being considered for a medal of valor when he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this case.

"When this case gets into court and all facts are presented, he'll be completely vindicated and absolutely innocent of all the charges filed against him," said attorney, Melvyn Douglas Sacks.

Gun dealer Lawrence Wolff, 46, faces one count of conspiracy to offer an assault weapon for sale and five counts involving weapons possession, Richards said.

Wolff has been released without bail pending his arraignment on March 21 in Santa Ana Central Courthouse. Kovac also returns to court that day.

"The prosecution of Lawrence Wolff, an honest and law-abiding firearms dealer, is accomplished for the sole purpose of concealing corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department," said his lawyer, Robert W. Walters.

Jordan didn't disclose the type of guns involved in the investigations, but the state's ban on assault weapons targets dozens of guns with a high rate of fire, including the Chinese-made AK-series of rifles and Intreated TEC-9 pistols.

An amendment to the law last year provided law enforcement officers with an exemption that allows them to buy assault weapons if the officer has been authorized by his employer to do so.

A state Department of Justice source speaking on condition of anonymity said the case involves forged LAPD documents investigators believe were used to purchase guns under that exemption.

The Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs Group has joined the probe, but has deferred its administrative investigation until the criminal probe is complete.

The Police Department declined to comment further on the investigation, referring questions to the state Department of Justice.

The revelation that LAPD officers may have illegally obtained assault weapons is the latest blow to the scandal-plagued agency.

The Police Department agreed in 2000 to adhere to a consent decree that installed a federal monitor to oversee reforms aimed at correcting what the U.S. Justice Department called a pattern of civil rights abuses.

Attention on the department intensified in 1999 when former Officer Rafael Perez told authorities about misconduct within the Rampart station's anti-gang unit in exchange for a lighter sentence for stealing cocaine from an evidence room.

More than 100 convictions have been thrown out as a result of Perez's revelations that officers beat, robbed and framed innocent people. Nine officers have been fired or resigned, two officers have pleaded guilty and the city has been forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle dozens of lawsuits.

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