A San Luis Obispo Police Department detective caught pilfering an evidence locker and not reporting confidential informants—and who inspired a District Attorney review of past cases—has pleaded guilty to extortion.
Arroyo Grande resident Cory Pierce, 39 years old at the time of his arrest, pleaded guilty to one count of extortion in federal court in Los Angeles on July 8. He originally faced an additional bribery charge.
He faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, and $250,000 fine, and must repay the FBI for $5,500 he took for operations but misused, according to Brandon Fox, the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case.
Pierce was initially scheduled to begin trial earlier this month, but the proceedings were continued to August. The plea prevents the evidence in the case from becoming part of the public record.
Federal agents arrested Pierce following an internal investigation into the officer’s dealings with confidential informants. That investigation was run by the SLOPD and the SLO County Sheriff’s Department, for which Pierce worked as a member of the Narcotics Task Force.
According to an affidavit attached to his federal indictment, Pierce was accused of keeping two informants off the books and out of trouble with probation officials as part of a scheme to sell fake drugs to acquire real narcotics, including pain pills and heroin. The scheme allegedly netted Pierce some $11,000, which he was suspected of sharing to some degree with his informants.
The alleged crimes came to light after the informants came forward, according to the affidavit.
On one occasion, the informants told investigators, Pierce took drugs from a dealer he set up at gunpoint and never reported the seizure.
In November 2012, the informants told police, he began shooting heroin.
Following his arrest, the Sheriff’s Department voluntarily requested its narcotics officers be drug tested. Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Tony Cipolla previously told New Times that each officer passed.
The department also announced that since Pierce’s arrest, the station evidence locker is now equipped with a surveillance camera.
Pierce’s federal public defender, Meha Mehta, declined comment,
and said she won’t comment on the case until it’s made its way through the court.
According to SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick, though Pierce remains on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the city’s investigation, it’s the city’s position that the plea mandates his termination, based on state law. She added that his attorney is disputing that interpretation.
San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell told New Times on July 9 that when Pierce entered his plea, the department was nearing the end of its administrative investigation into the matter. While the FBI conducted the criminal investigation focused on establishing its burden of proof in the court of law, the city is tasked with determining violations of department policy before any action can be taken regarding Pierce’s employment.
“Emotionally, this is one of those instances where we want to resolve this very quickly, but we do have to abide by the legal constraints,” Gesell said. “We respect that every employee is entitled to due process, and this [investigation] is extremely complex.”
Gesell said he expects the investigation to be finalized sometime in the next week.
Pierce is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 9 in Los Angeles District Court.