By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"They didn't count on Roper running counter-surveillance," says Clark Birdsall, the assistant district attorney who would later prosecute Roper. "He looks across the freeway and, to his surprise, finds a woman looking through her binoculars at him. So he hotfoots it across [to the Taco Bell, where she was parked], and he sees her sitting there with her FBI raid jacket and radio."
When Maples returned from his call, Roper and Coddington were waiting. "They said, 'It's a setup, but let's go in anyway,'" says Maples.
The resulting videotape shows an extremely hacked-off Roper, waving at the camera and talking trash to whomever might be listening in. The undercover Jamaican tried to bribe the officers, telling them he had a safe nearby, and if they'd go with him, he'd pay them off. They accompanied him, seized the money--$19,999--and promptly booked him into Lew Sterrett. The money--every marked penny of it--made it to the property room. On the way home, Roper sent out a message on the MDT: "Thanks for the money, Louis Freeh."
hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: centerDanny Maples says that, after the failed FBI sting, Roper alternated between believing his tormentors had backed off and ranting about the injustice of life in PI's crosshairs.
One thing is clear: The La Quinta setup didn't make Roper more cautious. A week later, on October 28, 1998, Roper and partner Larry Coddington pulled into the parking lot of an East Dallas auto detailing shop frequented by convicted drug dealer Homar Gracia and his associates. Homar Gracia's Lincoln Town Car was parked in front.
At least 12 people later gave statements about what happened that evening, and their stories didn't always match. Yet all but Roper generally agree on the following: Coddington guarded the Lincoln and two or three Hispanic men loitering outside, while Roper went in to find Gracia, supposedly because he had outstanding warrants. Once inside, Roper ordered all the Hispanics except Gracia to get out, leaving only Homar and the business owners. Roper then commanded the auto-detail owners to close shop and go home.
With "credible" witnesses out of the way and only dopers left, Roper went to work. He patted down Homar Gracia, found an envelope with $6,800 cash in his pocket, and cuffed him. Locating Gracia's keys, Roper searched the Lincoln. According to a public integrity report, in the trunk, under a spare tire, Roper found "30 to 35 thousand dollars and 19,000.00 worth of jewelry [all of] which was inside a Crown Royal bag."
Around this time, Gracia asked to have a private word with Roper, and the two went around the corner. Gracia later told investigators he tried to bribe Roper to let him go, but that Roper refused, suspecting another setup.
Coddington, meanwhile, had patted down the other Hispanic men and discovered $1,900 on Ismael Burciaga. Coddington showed Roper the money he had "detained" from Burciaga, and shortly afterward, Roper told Burciaga to take a hike--without his money.
At some point, patrol officers Ronnie Anderson and Michael Baesa arrived; they couldn't recall whether Gracia's trunk was open already. At Roper's request, they helped search Gracia's car, as well as a second car parked nearby. Anderson later told investigators he never saw any money at the scene. It does not appear that Baesa was ever asked.
Baesa and Roper found cocaine in the second car, which belonged to Ismael Burciaga, the man whom Roper had let go. Baesa went looking for Burciaga and found him at a nearby Sonic. Burciaga, Gracia, and another man were arrested. A total of $8,100--Burciaga's $1,900 and the contents of Gracia's pocket--made it to the property room. The contents of the Crown Royal bag--call it $30,000 and a lot of gold change--never did.
(Coddington would later give conflicting statements to police investigators about what happened that evening. For example, in a January 1999 statement to public integrity, Coddington said that Roper found Gracia's $6,800 in cash during a search of Gracia's car, which Roper had towed as abandoned property. Roper, in turn, said the business owner asked him to have the car hauled away, and that the $6,800 was "found property" from inside the car.
(Months afterward, the business owner denied to investigators that he'd asked Roper to tow the car. Some time around then, in a second statement to public integrity and internal affairs, Coddington gave a different timeline of events. Now Coddington said Roper had seized the $6,800 from Gracia before the car was searched. Police investigators apparently never questioned Coddington about the discrepancies, and Coddington did not return phone calls from the Dallas Observer.)
Two weeks after the Gracia arrest, PI finally confronted Roper.
On November 11, Detectives Carl Lowe and Diane McLeod showed up at Northeast. They were greeted by Roper's sergeant, who said he'd been expecting them for some time and who had taken the liberty of ordering Roper and several other officers who worked with him on the suspect arrests--including Anderson, Coddington, and Baesa--to come in that night at 10 p.m. and be interviewed. All denied having done or seen anything illegal; they were just hard-working cops being harassed by scumbucket dealers who wanted to make drug charges go away. Roper agreed to take a polygraph.