Crime

March 18, 2014

Fresno police detective arrested on bribery charge

A Fresno police detective was arrested Tuesday on federal charges that accuse him of taking a $20,000 bribe from a suspected drug dealer.

Vice intelligence squad detective Derik Carson Kumagai, 40, and alleged co-conspirator Saykham Somphoune, 40, of Clovis, were booked into the Fresno County Jail on charges of conspiracy, bribery and extortion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Cullers said at a news conference in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

A criminal complaint says Somphoune, who is not a law enforcement officer, also took or agreed to accept a bribe from the suspected drug dealer.

They will be arraigned today in federal court.

"It's a sad day for the Fresno Police Department," said a solemn Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who joined Cullers and other federal law enforcement officials at the news conference.

Dyer said Kumagai has been with the Fresno Police Department since June 2000. For the past 14 months, he has been assigned to the vice intelligence unit, the chief said. The unit investigates things like prostitution and outlaw biker gangs and assists narcotics officers with major drug investigations.

Dyer said there was nothing in Kumagai's background to alert his supervisors to any potential wrongdoing. Kumagai is now on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal police investigation. Dyer said the officer has given up his badge and service weapon for the time being.

"I'm disappointed," Dyer said. "It's cases like this that erode the trust that our citizens have in the police department."

Cullers declined to discuss the relationship between Kumagai and Somphoune, but he and the criminal complaint outlined the allegations against the pair:

According to Cullers, federal agents had been investigating a marijuana operation for about two years when they learned Kumagai and Somphoune had met with a suspected drug trafficker several times last fall.

In late October, Somphoune first told the suspected drug dealer that "Kumagai and others were asking for $60,000 in return for closing the purported investigation," the complaint says. Then on Oct. 22, Somphoune and Kumagai met with the suspected drug dealer, the complaint says, and told him the federal investigation "could be dropped in return for a bribe payment."

On Nov. 6, 2013, the suspected drug dealer paid Kumagai $20,000 cash, the complaint says.

After the bribe was paid, the suspected drug dealer completed documents to become a confidential police informant.

Cullers said the suspected drug trafficker had a motive to become an informant: "He could fly under the radar" and not be suspected in investigations.

Dyer said Kumagai didn't have the authority to sign up an informant. According to department policy, Dyer said, the Fresno County District Attorney's Office must sign off on anyone who wants to become an informant for police.

The case was the result of an investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grant Rabenn and Kevin Rooney are prosecuting the case.

If convicted of conspiracy, the two defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Cullers said. A conviction on the bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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