By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Roper showed Maples the ropes off the job, too. According to Maples, after work they would hang together. It was hardly a friendship of equals; as one Northeast cop recalls, "Maples idolized Roper." He soon began to imitate his hero's glamorous style, donning a wool cap and smoking Cohibas. According to Maples, Roper introduced his young protégé to other pleasures. "We went to the horse races," Maples recalls. "And to clubs. Roper would buy us [Maples and other officers] lap dances, and we'd drink...He'd give me money--fifties, hundreds--to go buy a $5 round, and he'd tell me 'keep the change.'" Roper later admitted to investigators that among his acquaintances were a number of strippers, whom he hired to entertain at "get-togethers" at his place. He even paid one woman to have sex with Maples, Maples later found out. (In statements to internal affairs, Roper adamantly denied ever paying anyone to have sex with anyone else.)
Equal or not, Maples did have a few things to offer Roper. Number one, Maples spoke fluent, if schoolboyish, Spanish. And number two, Maples claimed to have special expertise in profiling Hispanic drug dealers. In the summer of 1997, for example, he did an elaborate cross-check of DPD computer files--licenses, car registrations, ticket files--linked to a single address out of which a mid-level drug gang appeared to be operating. As a result, Maples says, he was able to identify members of what he called the "Old East Dallas Drug Cartel," an organization the feds now say moved hundreds of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine a month.
Maples drew an elaborate chart with the names, birth dates, and most important, descriptions of vehicles used by cartel members. He gave the chart to Roper, who started looking for family members and their vehicles. "Roper tormented that family, based on the information I gave him," Maples recalls proudly.
Indeed, Roper was apparently looking for members in December 1997 when he ran across Sandra Rodriguez--the woman who says Roper lifted $11,000 from her during her arrest. And that was the night, Maples says, he first crossed the thin blue line. Maples handled the task of checking her mobile phones and gun clips into the DPD property room. Unlike most federal law enforcement agencies, at DPD, street cops generally seize property--cash, guns, drugs, and equipment--on the honor system. It is up to the cops on the scene to transport items to the property room, located on Baylor Street near downtown, and in most cases, there are no peers or supervisors checking up to be sure it gets there.
As he was walking away from the property room to get in his cruiser and drive away, Maples claims, somebody shined a flashlight in his eyes.
According to Maples, it was Roper, waiting in his own cruiser.
"He had his driver's side window down. He was smoking a cigar, and he had two stacks of money on the passenger seat. He picked up a stack and handed it to me, and he goes, 'This is your cut of the Sandra Rodriguez arrest.'
"I said, 'No, it's not worth the risk.' That's when he said, 'Where do you think all that money I gave you before came from? You think you're just now crossing the line? You're already over it. You might as well take the money.'
"I wasn't as scared to take the money as I was of letting him down. I thought, 'He's trusting me, he's revealed the truth.' I mean, the guy had been my friend. It was the culmination of a long process; he brought me along slowly, revealed it slowly.
"I took it, and I put it in my safe, and I forgot about it until later."
Interestingly, that night someone took a few steps to ensure Maples' silence. Although cops and dealers alike later testified that Maples arrived at the scene late and didn't write the report, that's not the way it looked later. One report generated that evening used Maples' badge number, listing Maples as the first person there and also as the person making Sandra Rodriguez's arrest. Thus, in case anybody--public integrity, for example--later checked into the paperwork, Maples would appear to have made the stop with Roper, and was therefore, plausibly, the thief.
Maples and Roper, however, ignored the INS plants. Shortly after 2 a.m., in an effort to get the officers' attention, one of the Hispanic INS agents got out of his car and walked in front of Roper. At that point, internal public integrity notes show, Roper "calls [the undercover officer] over and asks for ID and he shows it. [Roper] lets them go. He does not check either one of them [for cash]." No shakedown; no evidence against Maples and Roper.
Five days later, public integrity tried again. This time, the trap was baited with two undercover Fort Worth police officers carrying $2,000 in cash and driving a brand-new Mercedes missing a headlight. This time, they got a nibble.
At 12:36 a.m., Maples and Roper, riding together, pulled over the poseurs. According to signed affidavits, Maples checked their wallets and told Roper "mucho dinero...[w]e need to find something to put them in jail." They didn't have to look far. The driver of the car, Robert Rangel, was carrying neither ID nor insurance; his passenger, David Meza, was posing as a drunk.