FRESNO, Calif. – A California police detective who was a member of the championship 1987 track team depicted in the movie McFarland USA has been charged with tipping off a drug dealer in return for more than $15,000 in bribes over three years, federal authorities announced Friday in Bakersfield.
Bakersfield Police Detective Damacio Diaz is charged in a 16 count indictment that also includes the possession and distribution of methamphetamine and filing false tax returns.
In exchange for the bribes, Diaz, 43, gave a criminal associate the names of police informants and agreed to tip off the associate to investigations, all in an effort to protect the criminal activity, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.
Diaz is suspected of taking drugs seized during investigations for his personal gain, rather than turning it over as evidence, Wagner said.
McFarland USA was released earlier this year and tells the journey of coach Jim White, played by actor Kevin Costner. Diaz and his two brothers were members of the cross-country team that won the state championship.
Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson says he is disappointed, given Diaz's portrayal in the movie and his role in the community of McFarland, where Diaz lives. "People aren't always what they seem," Williamson said.
Diaz, a 17-year veteran of the Bakersfield Police Department, has been on paid administrative leave for several months. Wagner said the investigation into Diaz was launched in February, but his alleged criminal activity stretches back four years.
Diaz is expected to make his first appearance in a federal court on Friday.
Attorney David Torres, who represents Diaz, said that at that in court his client will plead not guilty to the charges. Torres said he could not comment further on the case until he has reviewed the evidence collected by investigators.