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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Two Los Angeles police officers Friday pleaded guilty to charges of insurance fraud

Two Los Angeles police officers Friday pleaded guilty to charges of insurance fraud stemming from a case in which one of them had his car torched and the other helped cover up the crime.

As part of a deal he struck with prosecutors, Anthony Robert Villanueva, 24, admitted that last April he arranged to have his 2001 Lexus sedan taken to the desert and set on fire. Villanueva then reported the car stolen and submitted a claim with his insurance company to be reimbursed, prosecutors said.

Under the settlement terms, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Horwitz dismissed two other counts against the officer -– one for arson and another for filing a false report of a criminal offense. Horowitz spared Villanueva a prison sentence, giving him three years probation and 400 hours of community service.

The second officer, Ricardo Rebolledo, 27, vouched for Villanueva and his alibi on the day of the fabricated theft in a letter to the insurance company, the district attorney’s office said in a statement. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of insurance fraud and was sentenced to three years of formal probation and 200 hours of community service.

Both officers, who were rookies at the time of the attempted fraud, could have been sentenced to more than five years in state prison had they been convicted of the original charges. Villanueva's guilty plea likely brings an end to his short career as a Los Angeles Police Department officer.

Sgt. Mitzi Grasso, an LAPD spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail that when an officer pleads guilty or is convicted of a felony, the department will "terminate their employment."

Rebolledo, who pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor charge, could get a wide range of punishment from an admonishment to firing, depending "upon the circumstances surrounding the officer's misconduct," Grasso said.

The officers did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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