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LOS ANGELES -- Seemingly defiant to the end, a former Los Angeles police officer convicted of participating in a home invasion-style robbery ring declined Monday to address a federal judge moments before sentencing, an opportunity many defendants use to plead for leniency.
William Ferguson, a 35-year-old father of three, stood silently with his hands chained at his waist as U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess sentenced him to 102 years in federal prison.
Ferguson was the latest in a string of ex-cops to be sentenced in connection with the ring, which conducted bogus drug raids staged to look like legitimate police operations
Before sentencing, Ferguson's lawyer, Philip Deitch, argued that the 112 years being recommended by the probation department amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" and was wildly disproportionate to the sentences of co-defendants who had cooperated with prosecutors.
The admitted ringleader, former LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares, received a 13-year sentence last week.
Feess seemed somewhat sympathetic to Deitch's argument. But the judge noted that he was bound by a federal law that dictated a minimum sentence of 82 years in the case and that Ferguson had done little to help himself.
"There has been no acceptance -- ever -- of any sort," the judge said at one point. "There is no way to paint Mr. Ferguson's behavior as anything that is honorable . . . or good."
Deitch countered that Ferguson had at one point told prosecutors that he would admit to his own crimes, but that a potential plea deal fell apart when he said he would not testify against his brother, Joseph, a Long Beach police officer also implicated in the ring.
His brother was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.
Outside court, Deitch said Ferguson, an ex-Marine who served in Desert Storm, had told him that he refused to talk about his brother out of a sense of familial allegiance.
"I risked my life for my country," the lawyer quoted his client as saying. "I would certainly do the same for my family."
Ferguson had five felony arrests for burglary- and theft-related offenses before being hired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1996.
At one point, while trying to cite mitigating factors that might persuade Feess to impose a lesser sentence, Deitch told the judge that the incidents were not sufficiently serious to prevent him from being hired by the Police Department.
The judge shot back:
"To which I can only say, 'Why?' "
Feess added that he found it "stunning to me" that a prospective officer could be hired with even one criminal conviction.
When Ferguson was a rookie in the LAPD's Rampart Division, he occasionally worked with Palomares.
The two later became friends, and Palomares recruited him to join a gang of friends, family and police associates he was assembling to rip off drug dealers. The crew committed about 40 robberies, attempted robberies and burglaries between 1999 and 2001, netting about $1 million in drugs and cash.
Ferguson and Palomares would wear their LAPD uniforms and badges and brandish weapons. They even stole police cars from the academy to make them seem more legitimate while conducting their bogus raids.
Victims were often handcuffed and sometimes physically assaulted.
At Ferguson's trial in January, Palomares testified that his former partner conducted such thorough searches for drugs and money that he used to call him "a bloodhound."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Douglas M. Miller, one of the prosecutors on the case, said he hoped that the severity of the sentence would serve as a deterrent.
"It should send a message to those police officers who would commit a crime like this that they will be punished harshly," he said. "And, hopefully, at the same time it will restore the public's confidence in its police force."
Though Ferguson appeared stoic in court, Deitch said his client was not in denial about what the sentence meant.
"This man has to resign himself to spending the rest of his life in jail," he said.
Scott Glover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.