A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy and three alleged accomplices stand accused of running a vast drug trafficking conspiracy in which they would provide security services to narcotics dealers in exchange for cash, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
Kenneth Collins, a 15-year veteran of the department, and three other men were arrested by undercover FBI agents after they arrived in Pasadena to provide security for the transport of dozens of pounds of drugs — nearly 45 pounds of cocaine and more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.
The other men arrested are David Easter, a 51-year-old Hyde Park resident; Grant Valencia, a 34-year-old who lives in Pomona; and Maurice Desi Font, 56, of South Los Angeles.
While all four will face charges, the filing makes it clear that 50-year-old Collins was the ringleader of the operation. For months, he had been to subject of an undercover FBI sting that sought to document his acceptance of bribes in exchange for protecting drug traffickers, prosecutors said.
Collins even made it clear to federal agents that he would have people physically assaulted in exchange for cash, according to the criminal complaint.
Following the announcement Tuesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell issued a news release saying Collins had been suspended without pay, pending the results of the investigation.
In a separate statement, the Association of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies expressed its disappointment and urged the public not to lose faith in the Sheriff's Department as a whole.
"As outraged as the public may be over these accusations, I guarantee you the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department are twice as upset," the release stated.
As a deputy, Collins had been assigned to provide security for buses and trains operated by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the complaint states.
When he and the three other men arrived at the Rosemont Pavilion parking lot in Pasadena on Tuesday, they believed they would be getting paid $250,000 to accompany the large haul of meth and cocaine to Las Vegas, the complaint alleges.
While it was a large haul, the complaint alleges that Collins suggested "he has transported even greater quantities of controlled substances in the past and is trusted by large-scale drug traffickers.”
Collins represented all the man as law enforcement officers who would prevent "legitimate law enforcement from intercepting the drugs," prosecutors said.
However, the complaint states that Valencia is in fact a convicted felon, while Easter is not a law enforcement officer. Font's affiliation remains unclear; federal officials had yet to hand down a second criminal complaint expected to outline charges against him.
Tuesday's transport would not have been the group's first time providing security services for the FBI agents.
An undercover officer first contacted Collins early last August, posing as the relative of a wealthy investor interested in funding an illegal marijuana grow house. The deputy said he could provide security for the operation in exchange for cash, and said he was already involved in similar projects in L.A., San Bernardino and Lancaster.
Collins also offered to facilitate sale of up to $4 million in marijuana every month, the complaint states.
His involvement with the undercover officer escalated at an Aug. 25 meeting, during which he flashed his Sheriff's Department badge and gun to show that "by virtue of being a law enforcement officer, (he) was better equipped and adept at thwarting the detection of law enforcement,” according to the complaint.
"We’re cops," he told the agent, the filing states. "All of our transports make it through."
The undercover agent paid Collins $5,000 in "good faith" money after that meeting, officials said.
Collins also allegedly accepted money for roughing people up. In one instance, the FBI agent paid him $2,000 to locate a person in Northern California he was supposedly "having issues" with. After that, the deputy offered multiple times to “make additional contact” and “kind of impact him a little bit.”
He often touted his ability "fix problems," at another point claiming he had done so by setting someone's “$85,000 Cadillac truck on fire” in Boston, according to the complaint.
On Nov. 14, 2017, the undercover agents contracted Collins to escort what was allegedly 13 pounds of methamphetamine, along with marijuana and counterfeit cigarettes, from Pasadena to Nevada for $25,000.
After that run was successful, the agents made arrangements for the alleged transport that would have been carried out Tuesday, were it not actually an FBI sting.
Officials believe Collins called another L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputy to discuss that operation, the complaint states, but that person has not been named.
All four men have been charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and appeared in court Tuesday afternoon. If convicted, they each face maximum sentences of life in prison.
Officials also said they would be searching Collins’ residence on Mulberry Avenue in Chino, Easter’s home in Los Angeles and Valencia’s home in Pomona, as well as any vehicles driven to the Pasadena meeting spot Tuesday.
The investigation is ongoing and prosecutors are working to determine whether additional people were involved.
United States Attorney Nicola T. Hanna described the arrests as part of a broader commitment to "root out corruption, particularly when it involves sworn law enforcement officers."
"Deputy Collins sold his badge to assist an individual he thought was a drug trafficker," he said in a news release.