A former Arroyo Grande police officer and a U.S. Forest Service ranger are facing federal conspiracy charges following an alleged agreement to use government trucks to patrol private land near Los Padres National Forest.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an indictment Sept. 26 on behalf of a federal grand jury against Scott J. Alguire, a fleet manager with the Forest Service’s Santa Lucia Ranger District, and Phillip Laurence “Larry” Cooper, a former Arroyo Grande part-time police officer.
Both men are charged with federal counts of conspiracy, false impersonation and illegal conversion of government property, all felonies. The trial is scheduled to begin March 11 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Neither Alguire nor Cooper could be reached for comment Wednesday, and a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the agency cannot comment on a case involving personnel.
Alguire has been with the Forest Service since March 2010; Cooper was a half-time officer with the Arroyo Grande Police Department from 1979 until 2009.
The indictment came after a criminal grand jury investigation into proper use of U.S. Forest Service equipment in the Los Padres National Forest.
According to the indictment, Alguire managed the Forest Service’s fleet of patrol vehicles bearing law enforcement insignia and siren lights at the Santa Lucia ranger station.
Around September 2011, the prosecution alleges, Alguire gave Cooper possession of a Ford Explorer service vehicle — worth approximately $7,000 — to keep park visitors from going onto nearby cattle ranch land.
According to court records, the ranch owners accused park visitors of poaching and trespassing on their private property.
Prosecutors allege that Alguire and Cooper knew each other through their membership at the local Elks Lodge.
“Defendant Cooper also had a relationship with the ranch management,” the indictment reads. “Although in the past he had served in various law enforcement positions both active and reserve, at the time that he took possession of the Forest Service law enforcement vehicle from co-defendant Alguire, defendant Cooper had no active law enforcement position or authority, and no affiliation whatsoever with the United States Forest Service.”
According to prosecutors, Cooper used the vehicle over a couple of weeks to stop and question visitors to the forest, in many cases asking for identification and keeping a record of the information in the truck.
At least one person Cooper stopped later told the grand jury that he saw Cooper place a handgun in a back pocket of his pants and reported that a rifle was visible inside the vehicle.
At least one witness said Cooper identified himself as “law enforcement.”
In a later interview, Cooper admitted carrying the guns, which he said he is able to do as a retired sworn officer. Cooper is not charged with any weapons violations.
Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office were not available for comment Wednesday.
Alguire’s attorney, Michael Clayton, did not return a call for comment.
Cooper’s attorney, Los Angeles-based Stanley Greenberg, said Wednesday that his client was unaware of any wrongdoing and was simply one of a group of individuals who entered into a written volunteer agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to patrol against poachers and trespassers.
“We’re going to trial, and I believe the trial will show he’s been wrongfully accused and is innocent,” Greenberg said.
In January, Greenberg filed a motion to have the conspiracy charge against Cooper thrown out, arguing that Cooper did not knowingly conspire to illegally use the vehicle. The motion was thrown out by District Judge R. Gary Klausner.