The FBI is investigating a secret society of tattooed deputies in East Los Angeles as well as similar gang-like groups elsewhere within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, multiple people familiar with the inquiry told the Los Angeles Times.

The federal probe follows allegations of beatings and harassment by members of the Banditos, a group of deputies assigned to the Sheriff’s East L.A. station who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted with a sombrero, bandolier and pistol. The clique’s members have been accused by other deputies of using gang-like tactics to recruit young Latino deputies into their fold and retaliating against those who rebuff them.

In interviews with several deputies, FBI agents have asked about the inner workings of the Banditos and the group’s hierarchy, according to three people with close knowledge of the matter who spoke to The Times on the condition their names not be used because the investigation is ongoing.

In particular, the sources said, agents have been trying to determine whether leaders of the Banditos require or encourage aspiring members to commit criminal acts, such as planting evidence or writing false incident reports, to secure membership in the group.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly downplayed the significance of tattooed deputy groups in his ranks, calling them a “cultural norm” and a source of intergenerational hazing between lawmen. He said there is nothing wrong with the clubs as long as they don’t promote unlawful behavior.

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