Investigative Reporting Portfolio

Bell Coverage Wins Pulitzer Prize

Bell City Hall
Bell is one of the poorest cities in L.A. County. Photo: Robert J. Lopez

I was part of a team of  Los Angeles Times reporters and editors that was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service for a series of stories exposing alleged government corruption in the City of Bell.

PHOTO: 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Our articles detailed how top officials in Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, enriched themselves with extraordinary salaries and benefits while illegally raising taxes on residents and resorting to other legally questionable schemes to raise revenue.

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Spread of An International Street Gang

MS-13 gang member arrested in El Salvador. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

MS-13 gang member arrested in El Salvador. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

This gritty multimedia project took me across the United States and into Mexico and Central America. We showed how a U.S. immigration policy of deporting “criminal aliens” backfired with members of the Mara Salvatrucha, spreading what was once a Los Angeles gang across six countries and 33 states.

VIDEOS: Gang Spreads Across U.S. and Central America

We captured original video footage inside a prison in El Salvador and interviewed gang members, law enforcement officials, victims and intervention workers for this eight-month-long project. Here’s the link to the entire series.

PHOTOS: MS-13 Gang in U.S. and El Salvador

Sheriff Agrees to Limited Viewing of Ruben Salazar Files

Eight boxes of files on the slain journalist. Photo: Robert J. Lopez

Eight boxes of Ruben Salazar records. Photo: Robert J. Lopez


In 1994, I filed my first California Public Records Act Request to review the Sheriff’s Department files on Ruben Salazar. The department denied the request, saying the records were confidential law enforcement files. I made another CPRA request in 1995. It, too, was denied. Then in early 2010, as the 40th anniversary of Salazar’s slaying approached, I filed another request with Sheriff Lee Baca. He refused to release the files.

RELATED:
Documents – View FBI and LAPD Records on Ruben Salazar

I produced several reports and a video after Baca’s denial, which sparked an outcry from members of the Salazar family, activists, journalists and elected officials — all of whom said it was time for the department to come clean on the case and release its records. Finally, in late February 2011, Baca agreed to allow a limited viewing of the once-secret records by journalists and academics.
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Seeking the Ruben Salazar Files

In the months leading up to the 40th anniversary of the killing of Ruben Salazar, I filed a California Public Records Act request with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department seeking documents that might shed light on what happened the day the newsman died. An L.A. Times columnist and Spanish-language KMEX-TV news director, Salazar was shot in the head by a tear-gas missile fired by a sheriff’s deputy after rioting exploded in East L.A. during the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War on Aug. 29, 1970. The case has been clouded by controversy and speculation for 40 years.
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Crime, Corruption on U.S.-Mexico Line

Mexican police

This investigation took me into the underworld of human smuggling, organized crime and narco-trafficking in the badlands east of Tijuana. The area was controlled by the ruthless Arellano-Felix drug cartel. My colleagues and I investigated the Mexican smuggling village of Jacume and the corrupt law enforcement officials who allowed the crime to flourish. Known as a “black hole” of crime and corruption, the village sits high on a ridge overlooking the U.S. border and eastern San Diego County. We obtained confidential law enforcement documents and interviewed residents, smugglers and U.S. and Mexican authorities for a look at the inner-workings of an operation largely beyond the control of law enforcement. Here’s a link the article and here’s a link to a great Luis Sinco photo gallery of images shot during our investigation.

(Photo Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Ruben Salazar’s Suspicious Slaying


Ruben Salzar’s Legacy Lives On from Robert Lopez on Vimeo.

To this day, questions still swirl around the death of L.A. Times columnist and KMEX news director Ruben Salazar, who was killed by a Sheriff’s deputy on Aug. 29, 1970. I produced this Ruben Salazar video, pictured above, in 2008 after the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a stamp honoring the reporter’s legacy. My Column One article was written in 1995 for  the L.A. Times on the 25th anniversary of the newsman’s slaying. I relied on a variety of sources, including friends and colleagues of Salazar, as well as documents from the FBI and LAPD, to reconstruct the final weeks before Salazar was killed by a sheriff’s deputy while covering an anti-Vietnam War rally that exploded into violence. I also wrote a follow-up article in 1999, after waiting nearly six years for the FBI’s Salazar file.

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Mapping Traffic Problems


View Westside traffic — some of the worst in the U.S. in a larger map

Sometimes visualizations are the best way to convey information. I produced this interactive map as part of a news package about traffic on the Westside of Los Angeles — some of the nation’s worst. The map was a perfect platform for viewers to check traffic data in areas they traveled. I obtained the raw data from the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica and then crunched the numbers to find congested intersections and analyze traffic patterns over a period of several years. To tell my tale, I wrote the story around a mother, Cathy Glueck, who lives on the Westside and relishes the challenge of tackling traffic. After interviewing her, I knew she would be great in front of a camera. So here’s a video I also produced, which takes viewers on a ride along with Glueck as she travels with her daughter to soccer practice during the afternoon rush hour.

Affluence, Homelessness Collide In Venice

I produced this 2009 video and article while investigating a proposal to ban overnight parking in Venice, an affluent beach community in Los Angeles. The proposal, ultimately rejected by the state Coastal Commission, would have prevented people from sleeping in their vehicles. In recent years, Venice has become a magnet for people who live in their vans, cars, RVs and campers. The issue has been divisive and controversial. This story was ideally suited for video, allowing viewers to see the situation for themselves and meet people on both sides of the controversy.

Illegal Dumping Plagues L.A. Neighborhoods

This 2008 video, along with the article I wrote, shocked many of our viewers. Armed with my camera, I documented how alleys in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods were filled with trash, festering for up to six weeks before being cleaned by city crews. The refuse included household garbage and construction rubble, as well as dead dogs and roosters. I also produced an interactive map with embedded video content showing arrest locations, illegal-dumping hot stops and problem alleys.

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Hurricane Aid Sits While Victims Starve

I traveled to disaster-ravaged Nicaragua for this 1999 story. This was intended to be a warm-and-fuzzy feature about aid for Hurricane Mitch victims that was donated from people in Los Angeles. The relief supplies — hundreds of tons — were supposed to be passed out by the Catholic Church. But the story turned into a harder-edged investigative piece after the supplies were confiscated by the president’s daughter and left sitting on the docks while victims suffered.

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