By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Polygraph or not, at first, public integrity appears not to have thought much of Perez's complaint. Asked "what differentiates this [complaint] from some others that don't have as much substance," Sanders later told a grand jury, "Well, at the time...nothing. But after that, we received...14 or 15 complaints." There were, however, some problems with Perez's complaint. For one, Sandra Rodriguez was complaining that Roper, working alone, shook her down and then called backup. But the reports indicated the arresting officer was Danny Maples, a white guy who was supposedly there from the start.
Around that time, though, public integrity started to receive complaints from sources they deemed more credible: DPD narcotics officers. In exchange for payment of some sort, the narcs said, Roper appeared to have tipped the target of an undercover drug investigation that a member of his drug ring was cooperating with police.
Public integrity could do little with the allegation; since the undercover operation was still under way, nobody could call the drug dealer and ask him for a statement. Narcotics' suspicions about Roper had been aroused, though; they started flagging his arrest reports and studying them more closely.
"So," public integrity's Sanders told the grand jury, "we started looking at it, and then more complaints started, and more complaints..."
Unfortunately for Roper's conspiracy theory, the next six had nothing to do with Frank Perez.
In April 1998, a colleague of Sanders', detective Diane McLeod, received a complaint made by an undocumented immigrant named Juan Angel Ramirez. A month earlier, Ramirez wrote, he'd been stopped by a young white officer who ticketed Ramirez for failure to signal a turn. While checking the computer, the officer--whom arrest reports revealed to be Danny Maples--discovered Ramirez had a warrant for traffic tickets.
According to police records and testimony, Maples cuffed and searched Ramirez, who said he had "either $760 or $780" in his pocket. Ramirez stated Maples placed the money in a clear plastic bag and tucked it above the sun visor in his squad car. When Ramirez asked "where he was going to take my money," Maples replied it would be with Ramirez's other belongings. Before he was deported, however, Ramirez recovered his wallet, which was $780 lighter. Similarly, when Ramirez's sister picked up his impounded Suburban, police said no money had been checked in with the vehicle.
Ramirez, who had earned the money working two fast-food jobs, was not about to let the matter drop. A month later, he was not only back in the United States but standing at the service window of Northeast, demanding in Spanish to talk with someone about his missing money. On the second visit, a customer service officer put Ramirez in touch with public integrity.
Six days later, a second Hispanic man called with a startlingly similar story. Alberto Tapia said that, just after work on Friday, he and two companions had been pulled over. According to Tapia, a black officer came up to Tapia's new truck and said his windows were tinted too dark. The black policeman asked Tapia to exit his vehicle and demanded identification, while a skinny white officer did the same to Tapia's companions.
Tapia said both officers asked how much cash they had, demanding their wallets for inspection. After discovering that one passenger, Rafael Lopez, had $800 in cash, Lopez was arrested for carrying a fake Social Security card and neglecting to wear his seatbelt. Tapia and the third man, Oswaldo Romero, were released. A few minutes later, an odd thing happened: The white officer pulled them over again, on the pretext of getting their vehicle ID number. He handed them a card with the number for the jail, where they would be able to find Lopez. And he had also circled another number on the card: public integrity.
It was strange behavior, and seemed even stranger when Tapia talked to Lopez in jail, only to learn the officers had stolen Lopez's $800. Did the skinny white officer want to get caught? If so, Tapia was happy to oblige; the next morning, he called the circled number and complained about the theft.
McLeod pulled the report: The arresting officers were Maples and Roper.
McLeod lost no time getting down to the Euless Immigration and Naturalization office, where Lopez was about to be put on a bus for Mexico. Lopez gave a statement; in it, he said the officers had told him they were taking his money "because it was American money, and they were going to donate it." Lopez, who had just been paid for his work on a construction crew, said he cried and begged to be left at least $100 to get from the border to his home in central Mexico. No dice.
Public integrity now had at least seven witnesses telling more or less the same story. McLeod asked the INS branch director if he had any Spanish-speaking agents who would pose as illegal immigrants for an "integrity check."
Before they could pull it off, McLeod's notes show, another complaint against Maples and Roper came in. This time, a white husband-and-wife pair of junkies claimed Maples and Roper barged into their room at a La Quinta Inn and took $1,600. And there was a witness: A security guard had seen Maples counting out the money, which never made it to the property room.