GOOD COP? BAD COP? STANDOUT OFFICER LEADS DOUBLE LIFE, SUSPECTED IN DRUG RING.
Reynaldo Cortez Jr. earned 50 commendations as a Los Angeles police officer.
He trained other members of the force. And he volunteered for security details after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But this cop also lived a double life, federal prosecutors say.
A federal indictment accuses Cortez, 28, of being a conspirator in an international drug ring, using his family's Burbank home as a hub for cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy distribution. Cortez is the latest in a string of LAPD officers to be accused of serious wrongdoing since the Rampart scandal.
As a cop, he used his law enforcement authority to access a national criminal database to ensure that other members of the drug ring were not informing to police on him or two friends, prosecutors alleged.
The allegations came as a shock to those who knew Cortez, who described him as fun, friendly guy who helped anyone he could.
``He was a big sweetheart,'' said Beth Andriuzzo, 27, a production accountant and friend from Burbank High, where Cortez was an Associated Student Body officer and a pitcher on the baseball team.
``He was a funny, goofy guy. I can't say anything bad about him. He was so much fun. He was a big teddy bear. He was so friendly. He would have done anything for his friends.''
After they graduated, Andriuzzo, who also aspired to be a cop, used to talk to Cortez about his work for the Los Angeles Police Department.
``The whole thing is shocking to me,'' she said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case, is not talking, but the case is spelled out in court documents that allege a dark side of Cortez.
``Mr. Cortez's role essentially was to help to develop the source of supply,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Griess told a federal court in Davenport, Iowa. ``His house ... was the distribution point.''
``It's frustrating for me that I got a cop who's a drug dealer,'' said Deputy Chief Michael Berkow, the new head of the Professional Standards Bureau, formerly Internal Affairs. ``That's a failure.''
Nothing in Cortez's career - working patrol in Van Nuys, Valley Traffic and Southwest - suggested his double life.
``There was nothing,'' Berkow said. ``This kid wasn't doing anything. There was no criminal or administrative conduct observed.''
Cortez was arrested in December at his Burbank home and extradited to Iowa, where he is being held without bail in a Muscatine County jail. He resigned from the LAPD in March.
He faces a June 30 trial on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, at least five kilograms of cocaine, and Ecstasy. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In court, Cortez's Beverly Hills defense attorney, Jerry Kaplan, who did not return calls, said, ``I think that the evidence will show that his (Cortez's) participation, if at all, is much less than this government believes.''
Authorities alleged that Cortez began working as an associate in a drug trafficking ring in 1996, about the time he was graduating from San Diego State University and two years before he joined the LAPD, court documents state.
Prosecutors allege that two of his high school friends, Robert Guillermo Morataya and David Singh Johall, were also involved in the ring. Morataya was arrested in October in Granada, Spain, and is fighting extradition. Johall has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and is scheduled to be sentenced in August.
After high school, Cortez attended Glendale Community College, where he played baseball, then transferred to San Diego State, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics.
Morataya went off to the private Central College in Pella, Iowa, where, prosecutors allege, he began receiving marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy by mail.
At the Cortez family's yellow and brown house in Burbank, drugs were packaged, weighed and prepared for distribution, Griess alleged in court transcripts.
From there, various associates picked up the packages and sent them to Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and other Midwest locations, court documents allege.
Once the sales were made, the money was shipped by United Parcel Service or Federal Express to California, where it was picked up by unidentified associates and dropped off at Cortez's home, court documents state.
Cortez was sworn in as an LAPD officer April 13, 1998. At that point, the conspirators expanded their operations and began focusing more on Ecstasy, shipping the drugs from Amsterdam through Spain to the United States, according to court documents.
Cortez made at least two trips to Spain ``when Ecstasy was shipped back to the United States or when money was transported to Spain,'' according to court documents.
Prosecutors allege that Cortez used his authority to access a national criminal database to track whether any of his co-conspirators had been arrested, then passed that information along to Morataya.
``As he was an active police officer, it wouldn't be unusual to run names,'' said Al Overbaugh, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Iowa.
Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating Morataya in early 2001. Months later, U.S. Customs agents notified the LAPD that they suspected Cortez's father, Reynaldo Sr., of being involved in narcotics activities at two businesses in North Hollywood - an optical lab and a beauty salon on Lankershim Boulevard. The elder Cortez was arrested, but never charged.
In July 2002, the DEA notified the LAPD that the younger Cortez might be involved in the Iowa Ecstasy ring, and the LAPD began investigating the officer.
Authorities caught up with Morataya in Spain in October and arrested him. Shortly thereafter, Morataya wrote a letter to Cortez, urging him to meet with their other associates to ``get their story straight,'' according to court transcripts.
The associates had devised a code system to alert each other if any authorities had caught on to them, prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury indicted Cortez in December.
A search of Cortez's home yielded up to 200 plastic bags, heated sealers to make packages airtight, FedEx boxes and mailing labels, the letter from Morataya, a small amount of cocaine, and plane tickets to Spain, according to court documents.
During a court appearance in January, Kaplan, Cortez's attorney, argued that the former cop should be granted bail and released from jail.
``Mr. Cortez is and has been a loving son and boyfriend, valuable citizen and police officer who embarked on a well-decorated career to help the community and keep it safe,'' Kaplan wrote.
``He routinely cares for his mother, who is an epileptic, by tending to her medical condition, helping with the household chores, shopping for groceries and contributing to the household bills.''
But federal Judge Thomas J. Shields denied bail - not because he feared that Cortez would flee the country but because he considered the former cop a potential threat to the public.
``... I am finding him to be a risk of harm or danger to the community,'' Shields said.
Staff Writer Michael Gougis contributed to this report.
Jason Kandel, (818) 713-3664
(1 -- 2 -- color) no caption (Reynaldo Cortez Jr)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 8, 2003|
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