Forest Service employee acquitted of conspiracy in Huasna patrol case

A U.S. Forest Service fleet manager accused of conspiring with a civilian to use government vehicles to patrol a private cattle ranch was found not guilty following a three-day trial in Los Angeles.

Scott Alguire, a patrol vehicle fleet manager for the Forest Service’s Santa Lucia Ranger District in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, was found not guilty in May.

But his co-defendant, Phillip “Larry” Cooper, was convicted of felony charges of impersonating a forest ranger and making false statements to investigators for using a U.S. Forest Service vehicle to patrol a private ranch bordering the Los Padres National Forest and identifying himself to passersby as “law enforcement.”

Cooper is a former safety officer for Cuesta College, college officials said, as well as a part-time reserve officer for the Arroyo Grande Police Department from 1979 to 2009. He was not a sworn officer or a Forest Service employee during the time he patrolled the ranch.

A criminal grand jury investigation found that Cooper used the federal vehicle in September and October 2011 to stop and question people driving on Huasna Road, in some cases asking for identification and recording their information.

One driver told the grand jury that he saw Cooper place a handgun in his back pocket and that a rifle was visible inside the patrol vehicle. Cooper told investigators that, as a retired sworn officer, he can carry the guns. Cooper was not charged with any weapons violations.

During the trial, federal Bureau of Land Management Special Agent Alexander Lomvardias testified that Cooper denied demanding visitors’ identification and instead claimed that travelers on Huasna Road “would just drive up and hand over their ID cards,” according to court transcripts. Witness accounts disputed Cooper’s claim.

Alguire’s attorney, Billy Redell, said Monday that Alguire was not aware of Cooper’s conduct and that, as a former police officer, Cooper should have known his limits as a simple volunteer.

“I think he did walk that line, though I personally don’t think he crossed it,” Redell said.

Alguire said he was glad to have the criminal trial behind him, but that he is still fighting through the administrative process to get his Forest Service job back. He said he was placed on paid administrative leave in October and then suspended in January. He joined the Forest Service in 2010.

“Obviously, the agency wants to push forward with the idea I did something wrong,” Alguire said.

Andrew Madsen, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said agency policy is not to comment on personnel issues.

Neither Cooper nor his Los Angeles-based attorney, Stanley Greenberg, returned a request for comment.

Cooper’s sentencing is set for Aug. 4 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison, said Bruce Riordan, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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