Pubdate: Tue, 16 Jan 2018
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2018 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Joel Rubin and Maya Lau


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

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."

ThomMrozek, 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. aE&
They make profits in upwards of $5 million on certain, certain

He claimed he could provide teams of security made up of law
enforcement officers who "travel aE& 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

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.

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.

In a statement, Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the
FBI's Los Angeles field office, said McDonnell "cooperated fully with
the investigation."
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