Just hours after a federal judge sentenced former Bakersfield police Detective Patrick Mara to a five-year prison term Monday, law enforcement officials dismissed allegations of widespread corruption in the Bakersfield Police Department, insisting the rogue cop and his partner worked alone to steal and sell methamphetamine over a period of years.
At a press conference held Monday afternoon, local, state and federal law enforcement officials gathered at BPD headquarters before a crowd of detectives, police academy recruits and the media with one central message: This would be the last time they'd need to discuss the scandal, which has consumed the department for 18 months.
“I hope that somehow, some way, the media determines or decides to print that these two officers were the only ones involved in this incident and it’s not widespread corruption and going to read like a novel, like one of the defendant’s attorneys was quoted as saying. I hope that is put to rest today,” BPD Chief Greg Williamson said.
Mara’s sentencing capped a scandal that came to light last year with the indictment of 17-year police veteran Damacio Diaz. The scandal raised questions about how widespread corruption was at the BPD, revealed deep flaws in evidence room check-out procedures and eroded public trust in the department during a tumultuous period for police-community relations nationwide.
Diaz and Mara were each sentenced to five-year federal prison terms this month for seizing and selling more than 20 pounds of crystal meth, redistributing it back into the community they were sworn to protect.
Their operation came to an end when Guillermo “Memo” Magallanes, a confidential informant they were working with, was arrested and then snitched, said Phillip A. Talbert, acting U.S. district attorney for the eastern district of California. That sparked a federal investigation eventually involving the DEA, FBI, IRS, BPD and DOJ.
Williamson said he wouldn’t be critical of the five-year sentences — roughly 15 fewer years than what federal prosecutors recommended. They were granted leniency for cooperating, investigators said.
“I have to accept it and move forward,” Williamson said.
Meanwhile, Brian Delaney, assistant U.S. district attorney for the eastern district of California, defended the plea deals his office reached with Mara and Diaz.
“The government got two corrupt police officers no longer practicing police corruption … and they’re going away to prison for five years — that’s a serious sentence for a police officer. It may not have been the sentence we asked for, but it’s still a very serious sentence,” Delaney said.
And Diaz had to give up his ill-gotten gains and pay restitution totaling $128,000. He did so in cash, Delaney said.
Chris Hoover, a DEA assistant special agent, called Diaz and Mara’s actions “insidious,” and capable of destroying lives while “shattering” public trust.
“Cops everywhere pay the price for that,” Hoover said.
Diaz and Mara both claimed widespread corruption at BPD in court documents. Diaz, a McFarland High School track star who helped inspire the Disney blockbuster McFarland USA, said he saw the scandal as an opportunity to clean up the department, such as addressing routine violations of police procedures.
Diaz and Mara would enlist the help of patrol officers in pulling over cars where they suspected they would find drugs, Diaz said in court documents, then have those officers book just a fraction of the evidence while they stole the rest.
None of those allegations resulted in federal charges against any other officers, Talbert said.
“Our finding was different. We concluded that no officers were complicit in joining Diaz and Mara,” Talbert said.
The narcotics officers were able to get away with what they were doing because they outranked street cops and could take command of crime scenes, he said.
Federal officials say they are still investigating where the drugs went after Mara and Diaz sold them to a third party for distribution, but prosecutors don’t anticipate filing any additional charges against BPD officers, Talbert said.
Diaz and Mara also took drugs straight out of the evidence room and replaced it with look-alike substances without anyone’s knowledge. That’s something Williamson said doesn’t point to deficiencies in supervision and chain of command, but does raise questions about evidence check-out procedures now being addressed with assistance from the DEA.
“We thought, until this was uncovered, that we had a pretty airtight policy, but we found these individuals were working clandestinely and away from supervision on off-duty hours and were able to skirt the policies and procedures that we had in place,” Williamson said.
Diaz has said that after serving his prison sentence, he'd like to launch a motivational speaking career, warning officers of the dangers of giving into peer pressure on the job, including at his old workplace.
Asked about Diaz’s offer Monday, Williamson responded in no uncertain terms: “I’m not interested.”