Crime - Sacto 911

Yuba City police officer accused in cocaine trafficking scheme

A Yuba City police officer was one of two people arrested Wednesday on federal charges related to a cocaine trafficking scheme.

Harminder Phagura, 35, an officer with the Yuba City Police Department, and Gursharan Phagura, 39, of Yuba City and Roseville, were arrested based on a criminal complaint, according to a news release from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The complaint accuses them of conspiring to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute, and use of a communication facility in narcotics trafficking activity.

The men, who are believed to be related, were taken into custody by special agents with Homeland Security Investigations. They made their initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney. Following the hearing, Harminder Phagura was released on $100,000 bond, authorities said. Gursharan Phagura remains in custody pending a detention hearing Thursday. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.

Shawna Pavey, operations support manager for the Yuba City Police Department, said Harminder Phagura has been placed on administrative leave. She said he joined the department as a reserve officer in 2010 and became a regular officer in 2012. He was assigned to patrol duty and also served as a hostage negotiator.

The arrests are the latest development in a long-term Homeland Security Investigations probe targeting suspected cocaine trafficking by Gursharan Phagura, authorities said. According to information in the complaint affidavit unsealed Wednesday, special agents developed information during the course of the investigation implicating Officer Phagura in the scheme.

The two men are accused in the federal complaint of being part of an interstate and international drug trafficking organization.

According to the complaint, since October 2011, Homeland Security Investigations and other law enforcement agencies have investigated Gursharan Phagura for transporting illicit narcotics. During the investigation, Homeland Security Investigations agents confronted Gursharan Phagura with evidence of his involvement in smuggling operations. He admitted his involvement and agreed to “become a confidential informant for possible future consideration to reduce his criminal liability,” the complaint says.

But, according to the complaint, information provided by Gursharan Phagura proved unreliable and he was not used as a confidential informant after October 2012.

The complaint alleges that Harminder Phagura was Gursharan Phagura’s “law enforcement friend,” who aided the narcotics transactions by intercepting radio communications used by federal law enforcement agents and warning of the presence of other law enforcement officers.

Federal authorities said the Yuba City Police Department fully cooperated with the investigation. Police Chief Robert Landon said in a prepared statement that it was “a sad day for the Yuba City Police Department, the citizens of Yuba City and all of law enforcement.” Incidents like this, he said, erode the public’s trust and confidence. He pledged to continue to fully cooperate with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. attorney’s office.

Investigators Wednesday executed search warrants at three locations tied to the defendants, including two residences in Yuba City and a home in Roseville. Federal officials said the investigation is ongoing.

Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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