The former chief of a tribal police department in southern California has pleaded guilty to selling $300,000 worth of badges to wealthy Los Angeles residents so they could get concealed weapons permits.
Anthony Reyes Vazquez, 49, admitted he and other officers of the Manzanita Tribal Police Department recruited dozens of affluent Agelenos to join a “VIP Group,” issuing them badges that gave them certain law enforcement privileges but didn’t require them to perform any police work.
VIP for a fee
To join the force, the VIP members were required to pay fees ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, prosecutors said. Many of the members had no or little law enforcement background and many never visited the reservation at all, prosecutors said.
In exchange for paying the fee, the members would be given a badge which purportedly granted them the right to carry a concealed weapon, prosecutors said. Investigators declined to identify the members of the VIP group.
“This defendant sold law enforcement badges and jeopardized public safety,” said Randy Grossman, acting U.S. attorney for the southern district of California. “His manipulative and self-serving ploy also significantly undermined state laws governing the issuance of credentials to carry concealed weapons.”
Vazquez’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The police department served the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, whose reservation is about 70 miles east of San Diego, near the U.S. border with Mexico. Prosecutors, however, say the police force was not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the state of California, so its officers didn’t have the authority to enforce federal or state law, on or off the Manzanita reservation.
A message left at the headquarters of the Manzanita police was not immediately returned. The phone at the tribal office rang unanswered.
In all, prosecutors say Vazquez, who is not a registered member of the tribe, pocketed around $300,000 in donations from the VIP group, in addition to reimbursing himself $2,000 a month in travel expenses from his home in Camarillo, over 200 miles away from the reservation.
Prosecutors said Vazquez did not disclose to the tribe that he was selling membership to the reservation’s police department. He pleaded guilty Monday to stealing $300,000 from the tribe.
As part of his plea, Vazquez also admitted that he had a felony drug conviction in 1992 which barred him from possessing a firearm, meaning he illegally owned 24 guns while serving as the tribe’s chief of police.
Vazquez is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 24. He faces up to 10 years in prison.