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Veteran cop, his prosecutor wife, suspects in crime spree

By MICHAEL D. HARRIS

LOS ANGELES -- If one believes the charges, veteran police officer Bill Leasure and his wife, Assistant City Attorney Betsy Mogul, are hardly Mr. and Mrs. Law Enforcement.

He's accused of two contract murders and she's charged with a felony perjury charge that grew out of an investigation into her possible involvement in her husband's alleged criminal activities, including a statewide yacht theft ring.

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Police said they are convinced Mogul knew of stolen property found in the couple's suburban Northridge home, but prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge her with receiving stolen goods.

Leasure, 40, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who has been languishing in jail for more than a year, has been relieved of all his duties, but has not yet been formally fired.

Mogul, also 40, who once headed an elite criminal prosecution unit, recently received notice from City Attorney James Hahn that he intends to fire her because of her legal woes, sources close to the case said.

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Both face pending trials on the charges, which they have denied. Leasure faces a possible death penalty if convicted, while his wife, who unsuccessfully campaigned against Hahn for city attorney, could be sentenced to state prison.

Leasure was arrested in May 1986 in Oakland in connection with the insurance fraud and yacht theft ring. Following his arrest, a confessed hit man named Dennis France came forward and implicated Leasure in two contract murders.

Leasure was charged in May with arranging the slayings of Ann Smith, 41, in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles in 1980, and Antonio De Los Reyes, 63, in Sherman Oaks, another Los Angeles suburb, in 1981.

Prosecutors said Leasure was the getaway driver for France, who admitted committing the slayings.

Smith's husband, Arthur G. Smith, 55, and De Los Reyes' former wife, Paulette De Los Reyes, 44, are charged with hiring Leasure to arrange the murders of their respective spouses. If convicted, they too could be sentenced to death.

France, 42, has been granted immunity from prosecution.

Prosecutors said that in both slayings, Leasure and France attempted to mask the premeditated 'executions' as killings that occurred in the course of robberies.

The murders went unsolved until Leasure was arrested in the yacht theft ring case and France came forward to police.

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District Attorney Ira Reiner said Leasure is also suspected of arranging the March 20, 1977, murder of Gilberto Cervantes, 76, but there is insufficient evidence to charge him in that slaying.

In announcing charges against Leasure last spring, Reiner and Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Barry Wade said their investigation had proven that an innocent man, Charles F. Persico, an ex-convict with a history of drug abuse, was wrongly convicted of the Smith slaying.

Persico pleaded guilty to manslaughter in that case and later served three years in state prison before being paroled in 1984. He later said he entered a guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter because he didn't want to take the chance of being convicted for murder even though he was innocent.

'He was in prison for a crime he didn't commit,' Reiner said. 'It was a case of pure mistaken identity.'

Mogul was charged in February with falsely claiming to the state Department of Motor Vehicles in 1983 that she bought a Mercedes-Benz from her father, a lie that saved her about $600 in sales tax.

The man from whom she actually bought the car was Arthur Smith, one of Leasure's co-defendants in the murder case.

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Prior to being charged, Mogul was the supervising attorney of the special operations section of the city attorney's criminal branch.

But in January, she was reassigned to do civil work because of police concerns over her handling criminal cases after they found machine guns, silencers and stolen cars at her and Leasure's home.

'The amount and locations of property involved dictated that Betsy Leasure knew of its presence,' detectives who searched the home stated in their reports.

Police Chief Daryl Gates said police were convinced Mogul had to know there was stolen property in her house, where the falsified DMV documents were found.

The police reports also detail a meeting at a coffee shop the day after her husband's arrest in which Mogul allegedly wrote notes to France, saying, 'Do you know about the cars?' and 'Do you know about the other stuff?' The notes were then burned in an ashtray.

Hahn transferred Mogul two weeks after Gates warned him that she was going to be charged with perjury.

Mogul can request a hearing with officials of the city attorney's office to explain why she feels she should not be fired. A final determination on her status will be made after that meeting.

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