Two one-time Kern County sheriff's deputies face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty in federal court in Fresno Monday to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana as part of a criminal plot that also involved at least one Bakersfield police officer.
The deputies are Derrick Penney, who was assigned to the Gang Suppression Section-Investigations Unit, and Logan August, assigned to the Major Vendors Narcotics Unit.
The two hearings were short, with each defendant answering with yes and no answers to questions from U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill before finally answering "guilty" to the felony charges.
The first to plead was August. Later, outside the courthouse, the 30-year-old stood beside his attorney, David Torres, as Torres spoke to reporters.
Torres acknowledged the seriousness of the federal charge, and that his client understands that he has "besmirched the reputation of the good men and women" of the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
The maximum sentence the defendants are facing is five years, but attorneys for both men are expecting lenient treatment for their clients.
"We're hoping he will receive no jail time — probation only," Torres said of August.
His client has spent more than six months cooperating with federal prosecutors, Torres said. He has admitted to his crimes, and to his involvement with former Bakersfield Police Department Detective Patrick Mara, who pleaded guilty last fall to federal drug charges.
Mara and his former BPD partner Damacio Diaz are currently serving five-year sentences in federal prison.
"It's my understanding there are no other law enforcement officers involved" in these conspiracies, Torres said.
But similar predictions were made by local and federal authorities following the sentencing of Diaz and Mara. The plea deals made by August and Penney appear to have contradicted those predictions.
"Mr. August is extremely remorseful for having entered into this conspiracy," Torres said. "He feels he has let down the community ... and let down the (sheriff's) department.
"He harbors no ill will to anybody in law enforcement."
Torres, who also represented Diaz, said the one-time BPD detective played no role in the conspiracy involving his new client. That is why he was able to defend August, as there is no conflict of interest, he said.
Following Penney's plea of guilty Monday morning, Tony Capozzi, Penney's Fresno-based attorney, spoke with reporters.
Capozzi said Penney went to authorities more than a year ago, of his own accord.
"Morally he felt he had to come forward," Capozzi said.
He characterized his client as the "least involved" and the "most cooperative."
Were it not for Penney, who now lives in Idaho, August may not have contacted investigators, Capozzi said.
"He did encourage August to come in," he said.
While Mara and Diaz admitted to stealing methamphetamine and putting it back on the streets, and pocketing thousands of dollars in profits, the two deputies, with Mara's involvement, concentrated on marijuana.
According to the plea agreements, the pair admitted to engaging in the theft from the sheriff’s own storage unit of cannabis that had been previously confiscated from illegal grow operations.
The two deputies “abused” their positions of trust and authority, the plea agreement states, “to take for unlawful personal gain marijuana plants from KCSO property that had been seized in the course of … marijuana eradication operations.
“On or about September 19, 2014, in furtherance of this conspiracy, Penney and KCSO Deputy August used their KCSO-issued keys to gain access” to the department’s marijuana storage unit.
They admitted to cutting the tops off plants and placing them in trash bags. The stolen pot was stored at Penney’s home until another co-conspirator retrieved the stolen pot, and with the knowledge of the deputies, trimmed the crop into usable marijuana, the documents say.
The pot — about eight pounds worth of saleable material — was then returned on multiple occasions to Penney. The deputy then delivered the product, over a period of time to August, who provided it to an individual who had previously worked for him as a confidential informant.
That individual sold the weed and shared the profits with August, who then shared the money with Penney.
According to the plea bargains, federal prosecutors will recommend that the two former deputies be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at the low end of the guideline range for their offenses.
The maximum sentence that the court can impose on each defendant is five years, a fine of $250,000, a minimum two-year period of supervised release and other penalties.
However, if the sentences received by Mara and Diaz are any indication, O’Neill will not opt for anything close to a maximum.
The U.S. Attorney's Office had recommended sentences of 21 to 27 years for Mara and 17 to 22 years for Diaz. The sentences they received would prove to be a fraction of those recommendations.
Sentencing for Penney and August was set for Aug. 7.
The case against August and Penney was the result of an investigation by multiple agencies, specifically the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bakersfield Police Department. The Kern County Sheriff's Office assisted.