Federal agents arrested a San Luis Obispo narcotics officer for an alleged bribery scheme, according to a release by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Agents arrested officer Cory Pierce, 39, of Arroyo Grande without incident on the morning of Feb 5. He’s been charged with one count of bribery in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, according to the release.
The FBI reported that Pierce allegedly took cash and drugs from two individuals and allegedly provided the “cooperating witnesses” narcotics for their own personal use, as well as fake drugs to sell to dealers.
Pierce is a six-year veteran of the department and was recently assigned to the Sheriff’s Department’s narcotics team.
The SLOPD sent a press release later in the day, saying the officer was arrested on suspicion of theft and sale of placebo drugs following an internally initiated query, kicked off by SLOPD Chief Steve Gesell and SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson. The Sheriff’s Department had received a tip regarding possible criminal activity by a SLOPD officer assigned to its narcotics unit.
“A copy of the federal complaint and U.S. Attorney’s Office press release was provided to San Luis Obispo Police Department moments before the release of this document,” the press release reads. “Initial review shows both contain assertions beyond the scope of the charge related to sale of the placebo pills.”
The federal complaint details how Pierce “cultivated” two confidential sources, who are now cooperating with the FBI. Pierce allegedly influenced one of the informant’s probation officers to apply lax supervision to the individual in exchange for his or her cooperation.
“Today, I am deeply disappointed with the inevitable shadow these allegations cast over the hard work and professionalism exemplified by the members of this department, the Sheriff’s Office, and police officers across the country,” Gesell said in a prepared release. “For these reasons, I offer an apology to the public and [the] law enforcement community as well.”
Gesell later told New Times that if there’s a silver lining to the situation, it’s that members of four different local agencies had direct knowledge of the investigation for weeks and the investigation wasn’t compromised.
“It shows the system works,” he said.
Pierce was previously a member of the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s Situation-Oriented Response Team, and was involved in a number of controversial narcotics operations, including 2010’s “Operation Green Sweep,” which resulted in the arrests of 12 local residents for allegedly breaking California’s medical marijuana laws. All charges against the people arrested in that sweep were later dismissed by the SLO District Attorney’s Office.
If convicted of the bribery charge, Pierce could face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. He’s currently on administrative leave pending the completion of an internal investigation, separate from the criminal investigation.
The complaint is only one side of the story, and Pierce is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Pierce was scheduled for a court appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Los Angeles.
According to the FBI, the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the County Sheriff’s Office cooperated with federal investigators.