LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles County deputy sheriff pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana as part of an interstate drug trafficking scheme in which the deputy agreed to use his position as a law enforcement officer to ensure the successful transport of narcotics, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
Deputy Sheriff Kenneth Collins, 50, of Chino, who separated from the LASD in late February, admitted that he conspired with at least two other individuals to accept cash payments in exchange for distributing large quantities of controlled substances and actively thwarting the enforcement of state and local law – in exchange for cash payments as high as $250,000.
According to a plea agreement filed in federal court, during an FBI undercover operation, Collins agreed that he and his team would provide an armed escort for the narcotics and take calculated steps to prevent legitimate law enforcement from intercepting the shipments.
Collins pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Otis D. Wright, II, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for November 19, 2018. As a result of today’s guilty plea, Collins faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and he could be sentenced to as much as life without parole.
“Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law, which is why we hold them to a higher standard of conduct,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Deputy Collins didn’t just break the law, he trampled his oath by agreeing to sell his badge to assist drug traffickers.”
“Former Deputy Collins broke the law he swore to uphold by misusing his badge as a guarantee that crimes would go undetected, while enriching himself in the process,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The cooperation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department during this investigation was instrumental to the resolution of this case.”
In January, special agents with the FBI arrested Collins and two co-defendants – David Easter, 52, of the Hyde Park District of Los Angeles, and Grant Valencia, 34, of Pomona – after they arrived in Pasadena to provide security for the transport of nearly 45 pounds of cocaine and more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine to Las Vegas, Nevada. Unbeknownst to Collins and his co-defendants, the narcotics transport was part of an FBI sting operation. Collins had previously negotiated a cash payment of $250,000 for this transport with an undercover FBI agent posing as the partner of a wealthy investor financing a drug trafficking operation.
Collins had met Valencia through a life-skills class called the Emerging Leaders Academy where Collins was an instructor, according to court documents. The purpose of the academy was for LASD deputies to teach and mentor adult ex-offenders, like Valencia, in order to help those ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society.
Collins admitted in court that he and his two co-defendants previously provided security in November 2017 for a shipment of what Collins believed to be six kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as marijuana and counterfeit cigarettes, from Pasadena to Las Vegas. In exchange for his team’s security services that day, Collins received $25,000 in cash.
In justifying the high fees for his services, Collins told the undercover agent “we’re cops” and “all of our transports make it through.” During a recorded meeting with the undercover agent, Collins displayed his Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and firearm to prove that he was, in fact, a law enforcement officer, thereby rendering his services more valuable to a drug trafficking organization.
In October 2017, Collins sold two pounds of marijuana to the undercover agent for $6,000 as a “test run” to entice the undercover agent to purchase larger quantities of marijuana in the future. Collins also offered to facilitate the sale of up to $4 million of marijuana to the undercover agent every month, according to court documents. Collins claimed to have a “connection” through which he could secure up to 2,000 pounds of marijuana every month.
In his plea agreement, Collins further admitted that, while on duty in May 2014, he conducted an unlawful traffic stop of a vehicle and illegally seized approximately $160,000 in cash from the vehicle. Prior to the traffic stop, Collins was aware that there would be a large sum of cash in the vehicle. Collins conducted the bogus traffic stop to illegally seize the cash, which was never reported to the LASD.
Easter and Valencia are scheduled to be tried in this case before Judge Wright on October 23.
The case against Collins and his co-defendants is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cooperated in the federal investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.