The Masonic Fraternal Police Department claims jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico and traces its roots to 1100 B.C.
But its Los Angeles members didn’t appear to be on the radar of real law enforcement until they began sending letters announcing their new police chief.
After a months-long investigation, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department late Tuesday said it had arrested three members of the mysterious group for impersonating officers, including 31-year-old Brandon Kiel, a community affairs liaison to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
The bizarre case involving phony badges, uniforms and vehicles painted to resemble police cars has puzzled those in and out of politics, and brought national attention to Harris given her status as the state’s top law enforcement official and the frontrunner to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in next year’s election.
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Sheriff’s detectives believe the three were attempting to deceive the community about their status as law enforcement officials – “for a purpose yet to be determined,” adding that they believe there may be others associated with the rogue police organization.
A Harris spokesman said Kiel, a civil service employee, was placed on administrative leave but declined to comment further about his role in the office.
“The attorney general has been concerned about these serious allegation from the point she was first briefed on the investigation,” spokesman David Beltran said. “Our office has been cooperating with investigators from the beginning and will continue to do so as the investigation unfolds.”
Masonic grand masters continue to face serious safety concerns within their own jurisdictions and even from family members, says a note published on its website. The MFPD describes itself as more than 3,000 years old.
“When asked what is the difference between The Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other Police Departments the answer is simple for us,” it states. “We were here first! We are born into this Organization our bloodlines go deeper then (sic) an application. This is more then (sic) a job it is an obligation.”
A spokeswoman for the Masons’ “Grand Lodge of California” did not return a message seeking comment.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, probes of the MFPD began after representatives in January began mailing letters to chiefs of law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California advising that a man named David Henry was elected chief of the organization. Later, they received follow-up phone calls from “Chief Deputy Director” Kiel requesting meetings with each agency’s chief.
Among the highlights of the investigation was a meeting between the MFPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. During the meeting, sheriff’s officials said in a statement, Johnson’s suspicions were aroused when they couldn’t answer simple questions about their jurisdiction and overall department mission.
“Detectives conducted a thorough investigation,” the Sheriff’s Department said, “and determined MFPD was not a legitimate police agency.”
On April 29, Kiel, Henry, 46, and Tonette Hayes, 56, were arrested in Santa Clarita. During their search of two locations, detectives said, they recovered badges, ID cards, weapons, uniforms, police-type vehicles and other law enforcement equipment. Henry claims to oversee 500,000 members throughout the U.S.
Kiel is being charged with impersonating an officer and unlawful use of state identification.
Records show he previously worked two years as a field representative for then-Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, and that Davis’ 2013 campaign for Los Angeles City Council paid Kiel $2,000 in January 2013.
The state Department of Justice confirmed he went by the title of “Deputy Director of Community Affairs.” The Sacramento Bee’s state worker database lists him as an “Information Officer I (Specialist)” earning about $66,000 last year.
Henry (a grand master), Kiel (a grand high priest) and Hayes (a minister) were featured in 2012 photos published by the Los Angeles Sentinel, the weekly African American-owned newspaper, presenting awards to Davis and Rep. Maxine Waters.
Henry and Kiel also appear in a YouTube video posted last summer, with Kiel wearing a suit and bow tie and describing his official duties under Harris.
“The attorney general appointed me. I have her authority,” Kiel claims in the video, to applause. He goes on to say he was recommended for the post by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which a spokesman for the senator denied.
“Neither Sen. Feinstein nor anyone on her staff recommended Mr. Kiel,” Tom Mentzer said in an email Wednesday. “That is a false statement.”
In the video, Kiel said one of the department’s priorities is making sure that it is “smart on crime, and not tough on crime.”
“Everybody may sometimes make a mistake and fall down, but in getting back up we have to believe in redemption,” he added.
Later, a man who appears to be Henry refers to Kiel as his son-in-law.
“In two years he will be running for U.S. Senate,” Henry says of Kiel, the same office that Harris is now seeking.
Henry then advises an approving audience, “Look at what’s in front of you, not what’s behind you.”
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.