A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been charged with operating a large-scale drug trafficking operation in which he boasted that he hired other law enforcement officers to provide security to drug dealers and could assault people for his clients, according to court records.
Kenneth Collins, a deputy assigned to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and two other men were arrested by FBI agents Tuesday morning in a sting operation when they arrived to what they thought was a drug deal, according to records unsealed following the arrest.
Court documents outlining the case show Collins, 50, has been under investigation for months. He was recorded by agents discussing “his extensive drug trafficking network, past criminal conduct, and willingness to accept bribes to use his law enforcement status for criminal purposes,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
“I fix problems,” Collins was recorded saying to an undercover agent, court records show. “I make a lot of things go away.”
U.S. Atty. Nicola T. Hanna said in a statement that “Deputy Collins sold his badge to assist an individual he thought was a drug trafficker. The deputy allegedly used his status as a law enforcement officer as a guarantee when he promised safe travels for large quantities of illegal narcotics.”
Thom Mrozek, a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman, said that the investigation is continuing but that no other law enforcement officers had been implicated so far.
Federal authorities allege that Collins was paid $25,000 by agents posing as traffickers, who in November faked the transport of several pounds of methamphetamine and other contraband from Pasadena to Las Vegas and hired Collins to provide security for the trip, according to the court records.
When the undercover agent initially balked at the price tag, Collins explained that his services were worth it:
“We’re cops,” Collins said as he explained the figure, according to an FBI affidavit. “We deal with a lot of, you know, kind of high-end clients, and $25,000, they’re like, you know, it’s like as long as you can make sure my shipment gets from here to there, that’s fine. … They make profits in upwards of $5 million on certain, certain transports.”
He claimed he could provide teams of security made up of law enforcement officers who “travel … with guns” and boasted that he and two comrades had set ablaze an $85,000 Cadillac truck to help a client, the complaint said.
On the drive to Las Vegas, one of the men also charged in the case, David Easter, drove a lookout car, while authorities allege the other man, Grant Valencia, rode with the undercover agent in the vehicle with the fake drugs, according to court records. Collins rode in a third car keeping watch from behind.
On a separate occasion, Collins sold about 2 pounds of marijuana to an agent for $6,000 as a “test run” to demonstrate his ability to arrange and carry out deals, federal authorities allege. After the deal, Collins told the agent he had connections to marijuana operations in Northern California and could sell the agent $4 million of marijuana each month.
His contacts were “the best growers you can find in the north,” Collins is alleged to have boasted to the agent.
In the filed complaint, agents claimed Collins, Easter and Valencia had agreed to provide security for a large drug transaction on Tuesday at the Rosemont Pavilion, an events venue in Pasadena.
In exchange for as much as $250,000, Collins and his team were planning to help oversee the transport of a large cache of drugs and cash, agents alleged in court records. At first the agent and Collins agreed to a $75,000 payment to oversee the shipment of 20 kilograms of cocaine, 6 kilograms of methamphetamine and cash, but Collins later suggested they increase the amount of drugs to fill “a moving truck” and upped the price tag for the job, according to an undercover informant cited in the complaint.
Collins claimed he had a team of six men, including three other law enforcement officers, who could ensure the cargo made it to its destination “untouched, unscathed,” the document says.
After a meeting on Dec. 11 to plan the transport that was set for Tuesday, Collins called another L.A. County sheriff’s deputy to discuss the deal, according to the complaint. The other deputy is not named.
Like Collins, Easter, 51, and Valencia, 34, each face a charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Authorities said they also expected to charge a fourth man who was arrested Tuesday, 56-year-old Maurice Desi Font. It was not immediately clear whether agents planned to arrest other people in connection with the operation.
Outside the downtown courtroom where Collins and the other men were scheduled to appear Tuesday afternoon, an attorney from the federal public defender’s office introduced himself to Collins’ wife and explained that a magistrate judge would determine whether to grant the men bail or order them held. FBI agents then spoke quietly with the woman, handing over a plastic bag with Collins’ watch, belt, shoe laces and other possessions they confiscated when he was arrested.
She declined to comment on the case.
Collins has served as an instructor in a life-skills course for former inmates, according to a 2014 article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
The Emerging Leaders Academy, run by a retired sheriff’s sergeant, features deputies who act as mentors for people with criminal pasts who want to improve their literacy and career skills in order to stay out of prison.
Valencia also is featured in the Tribune article. He is described as an ex-offender who attended the program at the time Collins was teaching.
Collins was quoted in the article as saying he grew up poor before joining the military and later the Sheriff’s Department. He said the cognitive behavior program he went through to be able to teach forced him to change his perception of himself from that of a hardcore deputy who busted down doors and chased guns and dope slingers.
“I was so used to putting my foot on their neck,” he was quoted as saying. “This was kind of foreign to me. It goes against what we do — our profession.”
A call to the academy was not answered Tuesday morning.
A spokeswoman for Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Collins, who joined the department in 2002, would be placed on administrative leave. In a statement, Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said McDonnell “cooperated fully with the investigation.”