YUBA CITY - A police officer is facing federal charges after being arrested in connection with a cocaine trafficking operation. Harminder Phagura, 35, a Yuba City Police officer, was taken into custody Wednesday morning by federal agents.
A second man, Gursharan Phagura, 39, was also arrested. The criminal complaint accuses both men of conspiring to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute, and use of a communication facility in narcotics trafficking activity.
Officers searched three locations, two in Yuba City and one in Roseville, all three homes were places the suspects lived or spent time.
A federal complaint alleges Harminder Phagura used police equipment, while on duty, to protect his cousin Gursharan Phagura, as he conducted what he thought were real cocaine deals.
"Gursharan Phagura would enlist the help of Harminder Phagura in providing sort of cover, that is monitoring police frequencies to see if there were any other law enforcement, trying to find out if there was any law enforcement surveillance going on," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Benjamin Wagner said.
The complaint alleges Harminder Phagura started helping his cousin in March 2014. According to the federal affadavit, in July 2014 during a deal set up by an informant, both men showed up in their own cars, Harminder Phagura in his police cruiser near the Yuba City police station. At one point, one of them texted, "the weather looks clear," allegedly to say their were no federal agents in the area.
"And there was money that was passed from the cooperator to Mr. Gursharan Phagura, and it appears that some of that money passed on to Harminder Phagura," Wagner said at a press conference at the Yuba City Police Department Wednesday afternoon.
On two occasions, the informant allegedly paid $2,000 for the cousin's help.
Harminder Phagura, a four-year veteran of the department, had been out on medical leave since December but still had access to department equipment.
"I'm shocked, saddened and disappointed to hear of the arrest of Officer Phagura and his alleged involvement in this case," Yuba City Police Chief Robert Landon said.
Yuba City police were not told of the investigation until a week ago and federal officials are calling this an isolated case.
"We have every confidence in the Yuba City Police Department," Wagner said. "They have been very supportive since as soon as they learned about this."
Wednesday's arrests are described as the latest development in a larger investigation into suspected cocaine trafficking. During the investigation into Gursharan Phagura, the U.S. Attorney's office said Harminder Phagura was implicated.
Harminder Phagura is on paid administrative leave for now. He has been released on a $250,000 secured bond and his passport has been confiscated. His cousin remains in the Sacramento County Jail.