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L.A. Port police chief indicted in alleged fraud scheme

Port of L.A.'s chief of police indicted on federal corruption charges

The chief of police at the nation's busiest container port was indicted Thursday on federal corruption charges that accuse him of hiding his business links to a software developer he was helping win a contract at the port.

Ronald Jerome Boyd — chief of the Port of Los Angeles’ 128-officer force for more than a decade — faces charges of wire fraud, making false statements to federal agents and tax evasion, according to the 16-count indictment.

The charging document alleges that Boyd, who once worked as the valet to singer Ray Charles, defrauded the city “by means of bribery and kickbacks” and provided confidential information about the port to the software vendor.

Boyd, 57, is accused of helping the software developer obtain a contract with the city of Los Angeles while simultaneously forming an undisclosed joint venture with the company and later lying about it in an interview with federal agents.

If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of 124 years in federal prison. He is expected to surrender to federal authorities at his arraignment next week, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Boyd, who port officials said was placed on administrative leave Thursday, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Ed Robinson, said his client had known about the investigation for a long time and had cooperated with federal authorities.

“We look forward to defending the fraud charges,” Robinson said.

The accusations in the 21-page indictment revolve around a video messaging application called PortWatch, which was designed to help port workers, city officials and San Pedro residents share information about the harbor and alert authorities to possible criminal activity.

The indictment alleges that Boyd helped PortWatch’s developer tailor its responses to the Port of Los Angeles' contract proposals, edited the company's contract with the port so that he, as police chief, would be responsible for overseeing the progress and development of the application, and met with then-Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa regarding PortWatch.

Boyd never informed city and port officials that his firm, BDB Digital Communications, had an agreement with the same company to receive a share of revenue from a similar app that was in development, MetroWatch, according to the indictment. An unidentified company executive made it clear to Boyd that the MetroWatch partnership depended on the company being awarded the PortWatch contract by the city, the document alleges.

Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, learned late Thursday about the indictment and described PortWatch as a tool that never gained widespread traction.

“We don’t use the PortWatch app and we never did,” Sanfield said. “It never took off.”

The indictment alleges that Boyd and the software developer planned to market and sell MetroWatch to law enforcement agencies across the country.

According to an agreement signed in December 2011, Boyd would be entitled to 13.33% of gross revenue generated by the MetroWatch partnership, the indictment said.

The indictment does not name the company, but Santa Monica-based Ironroad USA Inc. issued a news release in 2012 announcing the launch of PortWatch and touting the police chief’s support.

“We believe that our PortWatch app is the first of its kind nationally and our hope is that it will provide for a better means of disseminating critical information to our constituents and a more meaningful and speedy response to any reported incident,” Boyd was quoted in the news release as saying.

In his 2012 statement of economic interests, which Boyd was legally and contractually required to file, he failed to disclose his stake in the joint venture, according to the indictment.

When FBI agents interviewed the police chief last fall, he told them that he had no financial stake in MetroWatch and that the company he helped form to partner with MetroWatch’s developer was actually created to sell body armor, according to the indictment. He also denied knowledge of agreements laying out his company's relationship to the software developer, but he had actually “participated in the drafting” of the agreements, according to the indictment.

The indictment also alleges that Boyd filed fraudulent tax forms from 2007 to 2011 by failing to disclose his total income. Boyd also failed to file taxes for the Torrance-based security company he owns, At Close Range Inc., according to the indictment.

In January, port Executive Director Gene Seroka named Boyd to his leadership team and placed him in charge of emergency management, according to a statement issued by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

For more news, follow @matthjourno.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

8:58 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional details and background information.

4:13 p.m. This post was updated to include the possible sentence Ronald Jerome Boyd faces.

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