ICE probe leads to indictment of local police officer for illegally exporting guns

LOS ANGELES - A Los Angeles police officer who owns a private security firm in Belize surrendered to authorities here Monday following his indictment for attempting to illegally export guns to that Central American nation.

Johnny Augustus Baltazar, 50, who was placed on administrative leave by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) last year, is named in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury Oct. 23. Baltazar is charged with one count of unlawful interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition. He is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Monday afternoon.

The indictment is the culmination of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that began when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers intercepted and seized the weapons at Los Angeles International Airport.

According to the indictment, Baltazar sought to ship a container packed with firearms and ammunition to Belize. The weapons included eight .40-caliber handguns and two 9 mm handguns along with more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

Investigators believe the weapons were intended for use by officers with a Belize-based company called Elite Security which is owned by the defendant. The defendant did not have the required licenses to export the firearms.

"As a law enforcement officer, this defendant should know full well why there are strict controls on the export of dangerous firearms," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "These laws are designed to ensure that potentially lethal weapons don't fall into the wrong hands -- that threat is the reason cases like this are an ICE priority."

The LAPD is conducting its own internal investigation into the allegations and placed Baltazar on administrative leave in October 2008. He is awaiting a department administrative discipline hearing.

"In cases like these we find ourselves disappointed in the actions of an officer that lead to an indictment on criminal charges," said Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Downing. "In this specific case, the department has initiated an internal investigation which, unlike the criminal case, is substantially restricted from public disclosure."

The maximum penalty for the violation charged in the indictment is five years in prison.