The FBI is investigating a secret society of tattooed deputies in East Los Angeles as well as similar gang-like groups elsewhere within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Times reports. The federal probe follows allegations of beatings and harassment by members of the Banditos, a group of deputies who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted in a sombrero, bandolier and pistol. Other deputies accuse the clique’s members of using gang-like tactics to recruit young Latino deputies into their fold and retaliating against those who rebuff them.
In interviews with deputies, FBI agents have asked about the inner workings of the Banditos and the group’s hierarchy. Agents have been trying to determine whether leaders of the Banditos require or encourage aspiring members to commit criminal acts, such as planting evidence or writing false incident reports, to secure membership in the group. The agents also have inquired about other groups known to exist in a department that polices the sprawling county. The inquiry marks the return of federal law enforcement authorities tasked with digging in the Sheriff’s Department, which has been beset by episodes of corruption and mismanagement in the past several years. In 2011, the FBI secretly opened an investigation into reports of inmate abuse by deputies working in county jails. The sweeping probe sent several deputies to prison for beatings and cover-ups. Former Sheriff Lee Baca, his second-in-command and other senior staff were convicted of conspiring to obstruct the FBI. The current investigation appears to have been prompted by a group of deputies who filed a legal claim against the county accusing sheriff’s officials of failing to address a hostile work environment in the East L.A. station.