Prelim For Meth Dealing Prof Set For March 30

The interminably delayed preliminary hearing for Dr. Stephen Kinzey has been delayed yet again, this time having been rescheduled to begin on March 30.
Kinzey, a tenured professor of kinesiology at Cal State San Bernardino, garnered national and international attention in 2011 when he was indicted along with ten others and charged with being the kingpin in a methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution network.
More than seven months ago, the matter appeared to be heading to a full public airing, with a preliminary hearing that was to start on June 2, 2014. That was vacated in favor of an August 18, 2014. There was a further delays which pushed the preliminary hearing target date to October 27. Tha hearing was vacated, however, and on January 8, 2015, Kinzey was in the courtroom of Judge Steven Malone for a prepreliminary hearing to confirm all would be ready for the previously scheduled January 12 preliminary hearing. But Malone vacated that date and scheduled another pre-preliminary hearing on the matter for March 26 and a preliminary hearing for March 30.
The string of delays and reschedulings is likely to result in Kinzey’s case, which widely drew comparisons to the Sony Pictures Television production Breaking Bad, will not go to trial until nearly four years after his arrest.
Breaking Bad, which originally aired on the American Movie Classics network for five seasons from January 20, 2008 to September 29, 2013, was a fictional depiction of a struggling high school chemistry teacher who with the aid of a former student produces and sells methamphetamine.
A total of eleven defendants were arrested in the matter involving Kinzey: Kinzey, Holly Vandergrift Robinson, Jeremy Disney, Eric Cortez, Edward Freer, Chelsea Marie Johnson, Hans Preszler, Elaine Flores, Wendi Lee Witherell, Christopher Allen Rikerd, and Stephenie Danielle Padilla.
In relatively short order, seven of those charged with Kinzey pleaded guilty to elements of the criminal case brought against them. Witherell pleaded guilty September 2011 to reduced charges. Flores, Padilla, Johnson, and Cortez all pleaded guilty in October 2011 to reduced charges. Freer and Rikerd pleaded guilty to reduced charges in November 2011.
Preszler, who along with Kinzey, Robinson and Disney maintained his innocence for 22 months after the arrests, in June 2013 pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit a crime.
Kinzey, now 48, was charged with drug dealing, running a street gang and possessing illegal firearms. Robinson, his live-in girlfriend and a former Cal State San Bernardino student, is accused of helping him run a handful of meth dealing operations in what law enforcement officials saw as a small-time enterprise that was on the verge of expanding. According to investigators and prosecutors, quantities of methamphetamine, believed to be in the pound to kilogram range, would be provided to drug dealers from the home that Kinzey and Robinson shared in a quiet and relatively upscale neighborhood in Highland.
Kinzey, who had a PH.D in kinesiology, obtained his doctorate from the University of Toledo, and previously earned his masters at Indiana State and his bachelor’s degree at Wayne State. He began teaching at the University of Mississippi in 1995 and transferred into the California State University system in 2001 and eventually became the chairman of the San Bernardino campus’s kinesiology department’s curriculum committee. Kinzey also had an interest, bordering on an obsession, with motorcycling and motorcycle clubs. A Harley-Davidson owner, Kinzey joined a local chapter of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club while he was a professor in Mississippi in 1997.
After coming to California, Kinzey intensified his biker club associations. It is unknown whether Kinzey landing in San Bernardino County, the birthplace of three of what are referred to as outlaw biker gangs – the Hells Angels, the Vagos and the Devils Diciples – was calculation or coincidence.
After his relocation from Mississippi, Kinzey started two local motorcycle clubs in Southern California while he was teaching at San Bernardino State. Curiously, his status with each of the clubs he founded eroded and it appears he was forced out of both.
In time, Kinzey moved on to form a new chapter of the Devils Diciples, a biker gang that originated in Fontana in 1967 but which now has its national headquarters in Detroit. Kinzey formed a San Bernardino Mountain chapter of the club and until his arrest was actively promoting the affiliation, selling Devil’s Diciples shirts, helmets and rider paraphernalia from a website.
Prosecutors have suggested a nexus between Kinzey’s alleged drug manufacturing activity and his ties with the Devil’s Diciples and possibly other motorcycle enthusiasts, but have provided no concrete information with regard to those associations.
Kinzey, represented by attorney James Glick, along with Robinson and Disney, represented respectively by attorney Stephen Sweigart and Ann Cunningham, continue to fight the charges. All three remaining defendants have waived their right to a preliminary hearing within ten court days of their arrest. The now more than three year delay in the case has left unanswered a questions as to whether the alleged drug ring Kinzey headed had a connection to a wider network paralleling the national structure of the Devil’s Diciples or if the conspiracy prosecutors say Kinzey headed was endemic to a handful of small scale local operators and users in and around San Bernardino.
When the preliminary hearing gets under way, the public is likely to get a glimpse of several sophisticated and here-to-now sensitive and/or secret methods of investigation now being utilized against suspected and actual domestic narcotic rings.
A preliminary hearing, also known as an evidentiary hearing, is a proceeding that takes place after a criminal complaint has been filed by the prosecution in which the judge hearing the matter is to make a determination whether there is enough evidence to warrant having the matter proceed to trial. While sufficient evidence to convict need not be demonstrated, enough evidence to satisfy the judge that there is probable cause to conclude that a crime was committed and those charged are responsible must be aired in open court. All evidence and witnesses brought forth are subject to examination by counsel for the defense, making it likely that more than a cursory vetting of the evidence will occur and that prosecutors, to some degree, will be locked in on the case they will need to present to a jury. A preliminary hearing has the further effect of locking the prosecution in with regard to those elements of the case that are previewed.
What is known is that the Kinzey ring was the focus of a joint task force that involved the FBI, the San Bernardino Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. There is at present some mystery as to how the investigation into the Kinzey ring evolved, that is, whether investigators worked the case from the top down or ground up. A ground up investigation would have involved local investigators coming across indications of drug activity, potentially drug dealing at the street level, and tracing that activity up the ladder, ultimately reaching Kinzey. A top down investigation would have entailed an investigation that had as its overarching target the alleged network of drug manufacturers and distributors working in conjunction with organizations such as the Devil’s Diciples, which came across Kinzey as investigators, in this case those with the FBI, worked their way down the chain of command or geographically across the country to California.
Federal authorities and other law enforcement agencies have been striving, for some time, to make drug trafficking cases against the Devil’s Diciples. Federal Prosecutors in 2009 charged the club’s national president, Jeff Garvin, “Fat Dog” Smith and 17 other Diciples members with drug trafficking, but then dropped the case six months later. In July 2012, 41 members and associates of the Devils Diciples, including Fat Dog Smith and national vice president Paul Anthony Darrah, were indicted on a variety of criminal charges, including racketeering, drug trafficking, illegal firearms offenses, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, and other federal offenses. Eighteen of the defendants, including Smith and Darrah, were charged with violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Kinzey was the target of an investigation that involved intense surveillance which tracked his movements and saw his communications, both telephonic and via the internet, closely monitored.
As the president of the local chapter of the Devil’s Diciples, Kinzey administered a website that was utilized to promote the club. In his representation of the group, Kinzey was known by the moniker “Skinz.” Undercover agents analyzed the postings to and from the website Kinzey controlled and took particular interest in purchases made, ostensibly for Devil’s Diciples t-shirts and other regalia, utilizing the website or e-Bay, with law enforcement officials seeking to determine if the sales masked or signaled drug buys or pick-ups.
Agents also shadowed Kinzey during his occasional meetings with Devil’s Diciples members when those confabs took place in public, including ones that took place at Chad’s Place, a bar in Big Bear frequented by bikers of all stripes.
Investigators obtained warrants to listen in to conversations or overlook text messages involving the ring’s members. Several of those communications piqued officers’ attention, giving them leads on his suspected network of drug distributors. For example, one text message sent to a suspected distributer read: “Bring whatever cabbage u got for my soup cuz ingredients are low.”
Despite the net of surveillance that had been stretched around Kinzey toward the end of the investigation, he eluded it when the task force made its move and served arrest and search warrants on the accused and their places of residence. When police descended on Kinzey’s upscale East Highlands Ranch Spanish-style home, they nabbed Robinson, and found a pound of methampetamine, loaded handguns and rifles and Kinzey’s biker leathers, but Kinzey was not there and he did not return. Instead, after an all points bulletin went out for his arrest in which it was reported that he was to be considered armed and dangerous, Kinzey days later came forward with his lawyer and $300,000 in bond money, which was posted without him being booked, photographed or fingerprinted. It was not until he turned up for his arraignment where he pleaded not guilty that he was subjected to the formalities of arrest, and then was immediately set loose.
Of peripheral interest is just how far beyond the confines of the motorcycle club and the circle of eleven people indicted the drug manufacturing and distribution activity extended. One indication was that Kinzey was not the “cook,” i.e., the chemist, who manufactured the drugs, but rather the first link in the chain between the lab and the eventual end users who bought it at the street level.

Leave a Reply