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Federal officials arrest Burbank officer in alleged scheme

FBI obtained recorded conversations implicating officer in extortion, complaint says.

October 15, 2013|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Federal authorities arrested a Burbank police officer Tuesday for his involvement in an alleged extortion scheme involving his girlfriend's estranged husband, state prosecutors and the FBI said.

Anthony Valento, a 17-year veteran of the Burbank Police Department, allegedly told his girlfriend Gayle Bassett's husband, who was not identified, that if he paid Bassett more than $100,000, Valento could get pending domestic violence charges against the husband reduced or dropped. The money would be handed over as part of an anticipated divorce settlement, the federal criminal complaint stated.

Live Chat at 1 p.m. with reporter Alene Tchekmedyian

Bassett's husband was arrested in September 2012 after allegedly throwing a bottle and bottle opener at Bassett, choking her and throwing her to the ground, according to the complaint.

Valento did not respond to the incident, but records show that afterward, Valento reported Bassett's husband for multiple restraining-order violations, which resulted in additional charges being filed against Bassett's husband.

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Starting in July, the FBI, with his cooperation, obtained a series of recorded conversations between Bassett's husband and Bassett or Valento. In the conversations, Valento tied the divorce settlement payment to his discussions with state prosecutors, the complaint said.

Valento told Bassett's husband that if he didn't "make a deal" with her, "she's going to go full out with the [district attorney]," according to the complaint.

The restraining-order violation charges against the husband were dropped on July 30 after Burbank investigators discovered Valento had a relationship with Bassett, which drew "concerns about a conflict of interest," the complaint stated. Valento was placed on paid administrative leave the next day.

According to the complaint, the decision to put Valento on administrative leave came after Burbank internal affairs investigators discovered that Valento falsified records to make it appear he was working when he wasn't.

On 13 work days between June 10 and July 31, Burbank investigators stated Valento misrepresented his whereabouts for nearly 24 hours. Surveillance and GPS records revealed his car was parked outside Bassett's house during these hours. Police department records show that Valento allegedly falsified traffic stops during those times as well, the complaint stated.

In August, Valento allegedly denied having a romantic relationship with Bassett during an interview with federal investigators. Though the complaint Tuesday was limited to his alleged lying to the FBI, the agency stated it also had probable cause to believe Valento was involved in wire fraud and bribery.

Valento is due in court Wednesday.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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