Three people, including an aide to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, were arrested after allegedly creating and running a "fictitious" police force, complete with fake badges, weapons, uniforms and police-type vehicles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Tuesday.
An investigation of the group began in late January when various law enforcement agencies across Southern California received mailed letters from the "Masonic Fraternal Police Department" advising that David Henry had been elected the MFPD's chief, according to a Sheriff's Department's news release.
The letters "immediately created suspicion and confusion within the law enforcement community," the release said.
A short time after the letters arrived, law enforcement began getting calls from someone identifying himself as “Chief Deputy Director Brandon Kiel," who asked to meet with the head of the department, the release stated.
The sheriff's Santa Clarita Valley Station began investigating the group after members met with Capt. Roosevelt Johnson and could not answer his questions about MFPD's mission and jurisdiction, according to the release.
"Investigators began asking questions as to what they stand for, their organization, and they couldn't really answer the questions," sheriff's Deputy Sara Rodriguez said Wednesday.
The group, which claimed to be descendants of the medieval Catholic military order the Knights Templar, told Roosevelt their police agency had been in existence for 3,000 years and had sovereign jurisdiction in 33 states and in Mexico.
The first Masonic Fraternal Police Department was founded in 1100 B.C., according to a site identifying itself as the organization's official website. The current organization is located in Santa Clarita.
Describing how it is different from other police departments, the website stated: "We were here first! We are born into this Organization our bloodlines go deeper then (sic) an application. This is more then (sic) a job it is an obligation."
After determining that MFPD was not a "legitimate" police agency, search warrants were issued in two separate locations in Santa Clarita where investigators recovered fake badges, uniforms, ID cards, weapons, police-type cars and other equipment, sheriff's officials stated.
It was not yet clear what they were trying to accomplish, Rodriguez said.
"We do know that they might have been trying to deceive the community," she said.
Three individuals were subsequently arrested: Brandon Kiel, David Henry and Tonette Hayes.
Kiel, who resides in Los Angeles, faces charges of impersonating a peace officer and misuse of a government identification. Originally, the Sheriff's Department stated he was 36 years old but his jail record showed his age was 31.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Kiel was an aide to Harris and worked as the deputy director of community affairs at the state's Department of Justice. He was on administrative leave, a spokesman for the office told the Times.
Henry, a 46-year-old Santa Clarita resident, was arrested on charges of perjury under oath and impersonating a peace officer. He is identified on the organization's website as the department's police chief.
Hayes, also of Santa Clarita, was arrested on suspicion of impersonating a peace officer. Although the Sheriff's Department stated in the release that she was 56, her inmate record indicated she was 59 years old.
All three were released from jail on April 30, the same day they were arrested and booked, according to inmate records.
Investigators also believe there are other people associated with the group. According to the website, there are roughly 500,000 members in the U.S.
The case remains under investigation and detectives have asked anyone with information about the organization to call Detective Amalia Hernandez of L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Emergency Operations Bureau - Sheriff’s Intelligence Unit at 323-980-2211.
Those who prefer to provide information anonymously about the group can contact Crime Stoppers by calling 800-222-8477.