2 Men to Plead Guilty in Case Involving Illegally Purchased Tribal Police Badges

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2 Men to Plead Guilty in Case Involving Illegally Purchased Tribal Police Badges

A police officer in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

12/16/2023

Updated: 12/16/2023

LOS ANGELES—Two Los Angeles-area men who authorities said illegally sold or bought police badges from a southeastern San Diego County tribe have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges, prosecutors announced Dec. 14.
Colin Gilbert, 80, of Marina del Rey, agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements, which carries a possible sentence of up to five years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Akiva Grunewald, 45, of West Los Angeles, agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison.
Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Grunewald are expected to formally enter guilty pleas in the coming weeks in Los Angeles federal court.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Gilbert and others recruited wealthy people beginning in 2016 to join the Manzanita Tribal Police Department, even though Mr. Gilbert lived about 177 miles from the Manzanita Reservation, was not a member of and had no affiliation with the Manzanita Tribe.
The wealthy individuals were asked to make a large payment, ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 and sometimes described as a “donation,” in exchange for membership in the tribal police. Prosecutors said the buyers wanted to secure law enforcement benefits they believed would come with the affiliation.
In one instance, Mr. Gilbert in 2019 arranged for a person with no law enforcement experience to pay $5,000 to become a member of the tribal police department, with the buyer saying he wanted to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, prosecutors said.
Mr. Gilbert allegedly lied to FBI investigators in November 2019, in part by saying “everybody that I had brought on had proper credentials, had the proper training, had everything done correctly,” according to his plea agreement.
He also falsely claimed to the FBI that everyone, including the newest recruit, had taken a specific law enforcement training class before receiving credentials. After his interview with the FBI, Mr. Gilbert called the new recruit and asked him to return the credentials and, if ever asked, deny having received them, court papers show.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Grunewald in 2018 gave the Manzanita Tribal Police Department chief $20,000 in hopes of obtaining a police badge, despite having no law enforcement training or experience. Prosecutors allege he wanted the badge to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
After obtaining the badge, Mr. Grunewald—who was a drug addict and unlawful user of oxycodone and other narcotics—was pulled over by Culver City police after an officer saw him run across a busy street and enter a black Range Rover that was missing a front license plate, had tinted windows, and had a rear license plate that belonged to a different car.
During the traffic stop, Mr. Grunewald displayed his Manzanita PD badge and identified himself as a police officer, prosecutors said. Mr. Grunewald “was shaking visibly, sweating, and appeared extremely nervous,” his plea agreement states.
The police officer asked Mr. Grunewald to exit the vehicle after the man said he was carrying a firearm on his right hip. During a search of the vehicle and Mr. Grunewald, law enforcement recovered two loaded firearms, about 43 oxycodone pills, a police gun belt with handcuffs, a collapsible baton, a tactical vest, pepper spray, and numerous other badges and credentials associated with other law enforcement agencies, according to the DOJ.
In October 2021, Anthony Vazquez, 51, of Oxnard, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $300,000 while serving as the head of the Manzanita Tribal Police from 2012 to 2018, prosecutors said. According to the DOJ, he sold fake badges to buyers who made substantial payments to become members of the Manzanita Tribal Police Department and have privileges available to law enforcement officers, such as carrying concealed weapons.
Mr. Vazquez is scheduled for sentencing on April 29.
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