LA cop charged with smuggling two people across border

SAN DIEGO -- A Los Angeles police officer pleaded not guilty Thursday to a federal charge of trying to bring two Mexican nationals in the country illegally through a immigration checkpoint in San Diego County.

Mambasse Koulabalo Patara, 42, was arrested at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 8 near Pine Valley.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Patara pulled up to the primary inspection area in a black 2006 Toyota Corolla sedan with two men in the car who were later determined to be in the United States illegally.

At the checkpoint, Patara immediately told agents he is a U.S. citizen and an off-duty police officer and showed them a Los Angeles Police Department identification card. Border agents said Patara appeared to be very nervous and was visibly shaking and avoiding eye contact, according to the complaint.

Patara was referred to secondary inspection, where he told agents he was in possession of his department-issued weapon. Agents then seized a pistol concealed in Patara's waistband.

Patara's passengers -- Fermin Lopez, and his nephew, German Ramirez- Gonzalez -- admitted being citizens of Mexico and illegally in the United States, authorities said.

Patara appeared in federal court in San Diego Thursday and pleaded not guilty to a single count of transportation of illegal aliens. He was released on bond and was ordered to surrender his passport and any other firearms in his possession.

He is due back in court May 9.