Man impersonates officer, robs vendors

BOYLE HEIGHTS, Calif. A Good Samaritan tipped off authorities in this case. That suspect is now facing a number of felony charges.

The suspect's victims were small-time street vendors, operating out of push-carts. Police say he would pose as a health inspector, or a Sheriff's deputy, and then shake the vendors down for cash.

"He was preying on probably the most vulnerable part of our population out here. The people that have very little money, and he knows are very, very unlikely to report the crime," said Captain Blake Chow, Los Angeles Police Department.

Nicolas Zavala Morales, 49, is currently held on a $1 million bond. He is charged with impersonating an officer, robbery and grand theft. Authorities say he would use a fake badge or other props, as part of his scheme to extort money from street vendors.

"He has a portfolio, he opens it up ... and in this portfolio is a letterhead that has an L.A. County seal on it. So, he's holding himself out as an L.A. County health inspector," said Captain Chow.

Officials made Zavala's case public in Boyle Heights on Wednesday because they want others to be aware of imitators. Officials believe there are others targeting street vendors who are operating without a permit, or are in the United States illegally. Therefore, they may be more unlikely to report the crime.

"Irrespective of whether these people are operating illegally or not, this person committed a crime upon them ... that should not be tolerated," said Jose Huizar, Los Angeles City Council.

Some in the community say the arrest makes street vendors feel safer about their situation.

Authorities say Zavala likely targeted more people, specifically in Orange County, and they would like victims to come forward and report those crimes.


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