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Former L.A. sheriff's deputy pleads guilty in drug trafficking scheme

Former L.A. sheriff's deputy pleads guilty in drug trafficking scheme
A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty Monday to taking part in a drug-trafficking scheme in which he charged up to $250,000 to protect large shipments of drugs being transported out of state, negotiating the payments with an undercover federal agent, court documents show.

Kenneth Collins, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Collins — who separated from the Sheriff’s Department about a month after his January arrest — faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in federal prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

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“Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law, which is why we hold them to a higher standard of conduct,” U.S. attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “Deputy Collins didn’t just break the law, he trampled his oath by agreeing to sell his badge to assist drug traffickers.”

Collins’ attorney could not be reached for comment.

Undercover federal authorities met Collins in August 2017, when an FBI agent posed as the partner of a wealthy investor who wanted to finance the production, distribution and sale of controlled substances, according to a plea agreement Collins reached with prosecutors.

Collins claimed to run “teams,” including other law enforcement officers, who provided security for illegal marijuana grow houses and drug transports. He offered to recruit a team for the undercover agent.

They met again a few weeks later, where Collins brought along an alleged co-conspirator, David Easter, and flashed his sheriff’s badge and gun to prove his ties to law enforcement, the plea agreement said. Toward the end of the meeting, Collins accepted a $5,000 cash payment stuffed in a magazine.

In October, the plea agreement said, Collins sold 2 pounds of marijuana to the agent for $6,000, considered a “test run” that could have led to the sale of up to 2,000 pounds of marijuana — $4 million worth — a month. Easter delivered the drugs to a second undercover agent, the agreement said.

The following month, Collins demanded $25,000 to escort a shipment of methamphetamine, marijuana and counterfeit cigarettes from Pasadena to Las Vegas, justifying the expense by saying he and his team were cops.

“All of our transports make it through,” Collins said, according to the plea agreement. Unbeknownst to him, the methamphetamine was fake.

During the drive to Las Vegas, Collins drove behind the transport vehicle, while Easter drove in front. A third person, Grant Valencia, rode in the car with an undercover agent and the drugs, according to the court filing. All three were keeping an eye out for police and other threats. If they spotted officers, Collins and Easter planned to distract them by driving erratically.

After that, Collins and the agent started making plans to transport an even larger shipment of meth and cocaine in January, according to the plea agreement. Since more drugs were involved, Collins named a higher price: $250,000.

When the trio showed up in Pasadena early on Jan. 16 to carry out their end of the deal, they were arrested by FBI agents. Easter and Valencia have pleaded not guilty and are slated to go to trial in October.

Prosecutors say Collins met Valencia through the Emerging Leaders Academy, a life-skills class to help people with criminal pasts reintegrate into society. Collins was an instructor, Valencia a student.

According to the plea agreement, Collins also admitted to illegally seizing $160,000 in cash during a bogus traffic stop he conducted in 2014 that he never reported. Before the stop, he knew there would be a large amount of cash in the car, the agreement said.

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