SLO police detective arrested by FBI in bribery scheme

dsneed@thetribunenews.com, jhickey@thetribunenews.comFebruary 5, 2013 

A detective with the San Luis Obispo Police Department was arrested Tuesday by FBI agents after being charged in a bribery scheme in which he allegedly took cash and drugs from two people.

Cory Pierce, 39, of Arroyo Grande allegedly provided two “cooperating witnesses” with narcotics for their own use, as well as placebo or fake drugs to sell to drug dealers, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Pierce is a six-year veteran of the San Luis Obispo Police Department who was assigned to a narcotics task force with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. He was taken into custody without incident at the FBI’s Santa Maria office and charged with one count of bribery in a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The criminal complaint describes how Pierce cultivated two sources, who have since cooperated with the FBI’s investigation by recording conversations with Pierce that led to his arrest. Pierce’s illegal activities were ongoing for as long as two years, and the investigation has yielded no information that other officers were involved in the scheme, said San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell at a news conference Tuesday.

Pierce was to have an initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. If convicted of the bribery charge alleged in the criminal complaint, Pierce would face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

The ongoing investigation was conducted by the FBI with the assistance of the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Ian Parkinson said his office became aware of the illegal activity about two weeks ago and asked the FBI to handle the case.

“I am angry and deeply disturbed that this has happened,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson told the staff of his narcotics task force about the arrest. Those officers agreed to take drug tests, which were administered Tuesday. Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the San Luis Obispo police have a policy of regularly testing its officers for drugs.

The alleged illegal activity began when one of the FBI’s cooperating witnesses was arrested for heroin possession in 2011. The witness and his girlfriend agreed to work with police, specifically Pierce.

But soon after, Pierce made unusual requests for the informants to bring him narcotics, according to the FBI complaint. As the requests continued, Pierce allegedly provided placebo pain pills and real narcotics to the two witnesses.

Pierce exchanged pills and drugs for cash and various narcotics brought to him by the witnesses, including oxycodone, heroin and drugs that treat opiate addiction, according to the complaint. It goes on to state that Pierce on several occasions provided the witness with methamphetamine that was still in police evidence bags.

The complaint alleges that the female witness obtained prescriptions for pain pills from her doctor and from emergency rooms to give to Pierce, and that Pierce would provide her with money to purchase the prescriptions.

The complaint alleges that Pierce used his position as a police officer to influence one of the witness’s probation officers to perform little or no supervision of him and informed him that he could “work off” his heroin possession charge by cooperating with Pierce. The complaint goes on to allege that Pierce informed the cooperating witnesses about ongoing police investigations, including where best to purchase narcotics and which drug houses to stay away from, so that they would not be caught in the act of buying.

Pierce allegedly had the witnesses set up a meeting with a drug dealer. Following the meeting, he pulled over the dealer’s vehicle at gunpoint, seized morphine pills and let the dealer go without making an arrest.

When the witnesses advised Pierce that the drug dealers to whom they had sold the placebo pills realized they had received a deceptive product and wanted revenge, Pierce asked for their identities and indicated he would “take care of it.”

Last month, one of the witnesses began cooperating with a federal investigation and recorded multiple conversations with Pierce. During those recorded conversations, Pierce allegedly instructed the witness to sell placebo pills to a drug dealer for $11,000, money that was to be split between Pierce and the witness.

On multiple occasions, Pierce asked the witness for Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addictions, indicating that he was personally using the drug, according to the complaint affidavit.

The complaint also details Pierce being caught on a surveillance camera inside the sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force office.

“The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Task Force office recently installed a camera in its office space to capture the area surrounding its evidence storage location,” the complaint says. On Jan. 31, 2013, the video showed the last employee leaving the office at 5:20 p.m. “Soon after that employee left, the video showed Pierce opening the office door and entering the space. The video showed that Pierce went directly to the sergeant’s desk and removed the evidence key from the top of his desk. According to the video, Pierce then opened the evidence storage area with the key and removed a sack from the storage location.

“The detective reviewing the video recognized the sack as one that contained the placebo pills resembling oxycodone. The video then showed Pierce grabbing two bottles from the sack, returning the evidence key to the sergeant’s desk, removing plastic wrap surrounding the bottles, and then exiting the office.”

The detective said Pierce was only inside the office for two minutes, the complaint alleges.

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