When federal agents eavesdropped on the telephone conversations of several drug trafficking suspects, they heard talk of marijuana sales, money transfers and cross-country drug shipments.
They may have also detected something far more surprising: a Los Angeles County sheriff's captain.
Law enforcement sources have confirmed that Bernice Abram, who is in charge of the sheriff's Carson station, was put on leave after federal authorities notified sheriff's officials that their captain may have been heard on the narcotics wiretap.
Officials are trying to determine whether hers is the voice on the recordings, and if so, what relationship she had with the suspects, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Abram has been on leave since April, along with her niece, a sheriff's custody assistant named Chantell White. Investigators from both the FBI and the Sheriff's Department spent several hours inside Abram's Carson station Aug. 9.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to say whether the agency is investigating Abram or to provide additional details.
In an interview with The Times, Sheriff Lee Baca would say only that the decision to place Abram on leave was spurred by "concerns presented from outside the department … and inside."
"I know it's sensitive enough for her not to be working while we look into it," the sheriff said.
Earlier this month, investigators from the FBI and other federal agencies arrested people accused of being members of the alleged Compton-based drug ring that was the focus of the wiretapping. Authorities say Dion Grim, the man accused of being the group's leader, is a Front Hood Crips associate who operated a walk-up drug house in Compton and illegally shipped Xanax and other prescription medications from Los Angeles to Louisiana.
Abram said in a brief interview that she didn't know why she was on leave. She also said she'd never heard of Grim. Her niece referred all questions to Sheriff's Department headquarters.
Authorities are trying to determine whether the female voice heard in several recorded conversations with Grim is Abram's. One source described the conversations as extensive but did not provide details about what was discussed.
Abram has been well-regarded in her career at the Sheriff's Department. She joined more than two decades ago, and in 2009 she took the helm of the Carson station, leading some 160 deputies and serving as the city's de facto police chief.
Grim, in his mid-30s, is accused of controlling sales, mostly of marijuana, at a notorious walk-up drug house at 927 W. Stockwell St. in Compton. His organization also allegedly had operatives in Louisiana who sold prescription pills there and funneled funds back to Grim.
During one raid of the drug house, owned by Grim, so much marijuana was flushed that almost 150 grams of pot stayed clogged in the toilet bowl, according to law enforcement records.
Grim is also an employee at a trash collection and recycling company.
In one incident, an associate of Grim's was pulled over on the 10 Freeway with a duffel bag from Waste Management, the sanitation company where Grim works. Law enforcement records say the black bag contained 4,200 Xanax pills and 13 single-pint bottles of codeine with promethazine, also known as "sizzurp" or "purple drank."
The other people accused of being part of the ring are Don Taylor, Charles "Big C" Davis, Isaac Lawrence Sparrow, Richard "Face" Jennings, Kenneth Dajaun Mitchell and Chauntay Sharee Rouzan.
The captain is on leave with pay pending the outcome of the internal probe.
Baca declined to comment, other than to say the investigation into Abram is ongoing. "We have to be patient … and wait for the facts to come in a holistic way," he said. "When it gets into my hands is when I have to make a decision."
Since 2009, Abram has been in charge of policing the city of Carson and the unincorporated areas of Torrance and East Rancho Dominguez. She started at the Sheriff's Department in 1987 and has held various posts there, including with the Special Victims Bureau and at the Compton and Century stations.
According to a department release, she was named woman of the year by the Anti-Defamation League for "combating hate." She lists a local rabbi as her spiritual advisor, according to the bio, and has been married for more than two decades.
After taking the helm at the Carson station, she hosted a "coffee with the captain" meet-and-greet with the public at a local Tony Roma's restaurant.
Even after she was put on leave, Baca praised Abram, calling her a "terrific leader" who is "highly respected."