A Bakersfield man pled not guilty in federal court Thursday to charges related to conspiring with disgraced Bakersfield Police Department officers to sell drugs stolen from evidence lockers, according to U.S. Justice Department officials.
A federal grand jury indicted Noel Carter, 44, Sept. 14 on one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine and two counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He was arrested, appeared in court and released to home detention with electronic monitoring Thursday.
Carter did not return calls to his office or cellphone seeking comment.
Carter’s arrest marks the latest development in a scandal that has plagued Kern County law enforcement for about two years, starting in 2015 when it was discovered that BPD Officers Damacio Diaz and Patrick Mara were stealing drugs from evidence lockers and facilitating their sale back to the public.
Later, two Kern County sheriffs deputies, Logan August and Derrick Penny, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana. Investigators connected the two cases.
The indictment announced Thursday alleges that from April 2012 to August 2015, Carter was handed drugs by Mara and Diaz with the intent to manufacture, process and sell them for profit, according to a news release from the Office of the United States Attorney, Eastern District of California.
Court documents paint Carter as a go-to guy for crooked cops.
“Law enforcement officers and friends of Patrick Mara wrongfully obtained marijuana. In exchange for a fee, Carter took that marijuana, had it processed … and returned the marijuana to the unnamed co-conspirators,” documents state.
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office, wouldn't name those co-conspirators but said they are indicted law enforcement officers, presumably August and Penny.
Carter was operating the drug ring from a fifth-floor office of the Bank of America building in downtown Bakersfield, just steps from a county courthouse and one block from police headquarters, according to federal court documents.
From that office space, Carter provided an “unindicted co-conspirator with an electronic key card that provided the co-conspirator 24-hour access to the building … and a key to a lockable mailbox,” court documents state.
That co-conspirator will not be indicted — a deal he made in exchange for giving up Carter, Horwood said.
The co-conspirator would enter the office and pick up methamphetamine Carter left for him in envelopes in the mailbox, documents say. In exchange, he would leave envelopes filled with cash, they state.
Court documents say Carter possessed up to 500 grams of drugs cut with methamphetamine intent for distribution, and another 50 grams of pure methamphetamine.
Mara and Diaz are both serving five-year federal prison sentences.
If convicted, Carter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine.
A Noel Carter who was born the same year as the Carter indicted in federal court has a past criminal record, according to Kern County Superior Court records.
He pled no contest to misdemeanor trespassing and had a vandalism charge dismissed in 1993 – something he served one year probation for, then three months later pled guilty to illegally hunting or shooting on posted land without permission.
In 1994, he had a felony charge of unlawfully taking a bicycle dismissed.
He pled guilty in 1998 to misdemeanor driving with a suspended or revoked license and paid a $200 fine.
Carter had another vandalism charge dismissed in 2007 where more than $400 in property damage was done.
He pled guilty in 2012 to driving without a license and had two other related charges dismissed. He paid a $502 fine.
Carter works as a manager for Pacific Workplaces, which rents out virtual office space throughout California — including on the fifth floor of the Bank of America building in Bakersfield.
Former Panama-Buena Vista Teachers Association President Lauri Heffernan rented a space for the union in the office from Carter for about three years and met Carter, whom she described as "slimy, shady and not very professional."
At least two attorneys also rented space on the floor, which accommodated roughly 15 offices, Heffernan said.