Los Angeles

FBI Investigating Alleged Secret Society of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies

The probe follows allegations of beatings and harassment by members of the Banditos, who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted in a sombrero, bandoleer and pistol.

FBI agents are examining deputy cliques that exist within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, including the "Bandito" group at the East LA station, federal and local law enforcement sources confirmed Thursday.

The scope of the investigation is not clear.

It could be narrowly focused at East LA, or it could be looking at the broader issue of whether secret deputy groups like the Banditos are tied to systemic civil rights violations across the department.

Another group that calls itself "the Reapers" recently was mentioned in an Inspector General's report on the rehiring scandal of former deputy Caren "Carl" Mandoyan, who claimed membership in the group as a way to amplify an alleged threat of violence.

Many members of the Reapers displayed tattoos of the grim reaper.

The FBI declined to comment late Thursday.

Several lawsuits have described the Banditos as an outlaw group that exercised control over the management of the East LA station, even though its alleged members ranked as deputies and sergeants, not the lieutenants and captains who are supposed to be in charge.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has promised to confront rogue deputy groups, said in a statement Thursday that the department was not aware of any FBI investigation into subgroups from the East LA station, where he has deep ties.

"However, in the event that an investigation is initiated, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will provide our full cooperation."

The news comes after a group of deputies filed legal claims against the county, saying they are the victims of the Banditos who terrorize young, Latino deputies working in East LA. It sparked an investigation by the county Inspector General's Office and a review of costs of lawsuits against members of sheriff's deputy cliques or gangs over the last three decades.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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