Nearly two weeks before he was to go on trial, a former FBI agent pleaded guilty Monday to stealing more than $136,000 in cash that had been seized during drug investigations.
Former special agent Scott M. Bowman admitted to using the cash to fund a lavish spending spree on items including plastic surgery and cars. The plea deal draws to a close a case that has led prosecutors to drop criminal charges against more than a dozen defendants in a case Bowman had investigated.
In a Riverside courtroom, Bowman, 45, admitted to one count each of obstruction of justice, falsification of records, witness tampering and conversion of property by a federal employee.
"As Mr. Bowman takes responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty, the public should be reminded that FBI personnel are held to the highest standards and misconduct of any kind is taken very seriously," said James Struyk, acting assistant director in charge of the FBI's field office in Los Angeles.
An attorney for Bowman, James W. Spertus, said that his client should not be singled out as the only wrongdoer on the anti-gang task force in San Bernardino, which included personnel from the FBI, San Bernardino police and the San Bernardino County sheriff's office.
"Mr. Bowman accepted full responsibility for his role in the charged offenses," Spertus said in a statement. "We remain hopeful that the Department of Justice will accept cooperation from Mr. Bowman to investigate and root out corruption in San Bernardino, rather than continuing to ignore the problem there."
An FBI agent since 2005, Bowman was a member of an anti-gang task force that worked in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to his plea agreement filed in federal court.
The Moreno Valley resident admitted that he pocketed the money during three searches carried out in June and August 2014, prosecutors said.
One search of an Azusa hotel room netted him nearly $11,000, and he kept another $4,600 following the search of an apartment believed to be connected to the methamphetamine trade.
But Bowman's biggest haul came from the search of a San Bernardino home that was alleged to be part of a heroin and cocaine distribution ring that operated in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Seized money was sealed in evidence bags and placed in a safe in an FBI office overnight. The next day, Bowman picked up the cash to take it to be counted. During the trip, he broke the sealed bags and took a "substantial portion" of cash, according to his plea agreement. He put the rest of the cash, just over $366,000, in new evidence bags, according to court papers.
Bowman used the money to buy a 2012 Dodge Challenger coupe for more than $43,000 in cash, according to the plea agreement. He then spent nearly $17,000 outfitting the car with a premium sound system, 24-inch rims and tires and a new muffler.
He also bought $15,000 worth of plastic surgery in cash for his wife, and spent another $700 for tickets to a sporting event, according to the plea agreement.
To hide his theft, Bowman told co-workers that his father had given him a $97,000 advance on his inheritance.
He also claimed that a San Bernardino detective had joined him in dropping off the cash to be counted; he forged the detective's signature on a receipt from delivering the money, according to the plea agreement.
Bowman later tried to coach the detective into going along with a cover story. He told the detective to verify that he went on the trip to the cash-counting facility and signed the receipt.
"I brought it in, you stayed outside. I had to bring the receipt out for you to sign later," Bowman wrote in an Oct. 22, 2014, email.
The detective, whose identity was not released, later told Bowman that he could not lie and vouch for him. Bowman was fired from the bureau in March 2015.
Bowman, who was scheduled to go on trial May 17, is to be sentenced in August. The charges to which he pleaded carry a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison.
For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.