Former Rohnert Park Police Officers Charged With Conspiracy To Commit Extortion And Related Charges In Marijuana Seizure Scheme
Defendants Allegedly Used Traffic Stops along Highway 101 to Shake Down Drivers for Money, Marijuana, and Other Property
SAN FRANCISCO – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California unsealed charges today in a criminal complaint charging former Rohnert Park police officers Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, announced Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie M. Hinds, FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Daniels. Tatum also is charged with falsification of records in a federal investigation and tax evasion.
According to the complaint, Tatum, from Santa Rosa, and Huffaker, from Rohnert Park, were employed as officers by the City of Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Police Services Patrol Division (RPDPS). Tatum was employed with RPDPS between 2003 and 2018, and Huffaker was employed with RPDPS between 2012 and 2019. RPDPS operated an interdiction team between 2014 and early 2017 that conducted traffic stops on vehicles along Highway101 between Cloverdale and Rohnert Park in a program designed to seize illegal drugs. Tatum and Huffaker were both assigned to the interdiction team at various times between 2015 and January 2017—when interdiction operations were terminated by RPDPS.
The criminal complaint describes how Tatum and others allegedly conducted numerous interdictions while on duty, in which Tatum is alleged to have extorted at least $3,700 in cash and significant amounts of marijuana from victim drivers they stopped along Highway 101, by threatening to arrest them and seize the assets and marijuana if the victim drivers did not consent to the seizures. In these cases, Tatum and the other officers made no reports of the seizure, did not submit the marijuana or assets into evidence, and sought no destruction orders for the marijuana. These seizures were completely undocumented by the officers, contrary to policy, but were captured in audio and video footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras.
The undocumented stops and seizures allegedly occurred even after termination of the interdiction team’s operations. On December 5, 2017, the complaint alleges, Tatum and Huffaker stopped a driver along Highway 101. Neither were wearing RPDPS uniforms and they claimed to be ATF agents. The complaint alleges Tatum and Huffaker extorted marijuana from the victim driver and the seizure went completely undocumented. Again, on December 18, 2017, Tatum and another officer stopped another driver carrying 23 pounds of marijuana, packaged in one-pound bags, labeled by date and strain. That driver also had four crates of hash, all destined for a dispensary lab. Again, Tatum and the other officer were not in RPDPS uniforms and identified themselves as ATF agents when they told the driver they would either arrest him and seize the marijuana and hash, or the driver could agree to let them take the marijuana. Tatum and the officer took the marijuana.
In February 2018, the press began reporting on robberies along Highway 101 by purported law enforcement agents, and specifically the robbery that took place on December 5, 2017. These reports indicated that the victims had been interviewed by the FBI. The criminal complaint alleges that Tatum responded by drafting a press release claiming RPDPS was responsible for the December 5, 2017 stop, and then prepared a false police report to conceal his criminal activity.
The complaint also alleges that during 2016, at the same time Tatum was extorting marijuana from drivers along Highway 101, he made hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash deposits into his own accounts, as well as his wife’s bank account. The complaint explains that the deposits all were made in amounts under $10,000, in an apparent attempt to avoid banking laws requiring disclosure of the deposits. In addition, during the same period, Tatum used approximately $46,000 in cash that did not come from any of his accounts to purchase a fishing boat. In summary, the cash deposits into Tatum’s and his family members’ accounts during that year, along with the cash used to purchase the fishing boat, totaled $443,059. The complaint alleges all these assets went unreported on Tatum’s tax returns for 2016.
“The public entrusts police officers to enforce the law,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Hinds. “The public faith erodes when that trust is violated. The abuse of police powers cannot be tolerated and must be vigorously prosecuted.”
“The FBI has a solemn responsibility to investigate allegations of public corruption and the abuse of power by any public servant. The Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety cooperated fully with the FBI to put a stop to this serious breach of public trust and to hold these individuals accountable for their actions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. “There is no greater responsibility for law enforcement than to abide by the oath of office and respect the Constitutional rights of all people.”
“The IRS enforces the nation’s tax laws, but also takes particular interest in cases where someone, like Tatum, allegedly deposits large amounts of cash below the Currency Transaction Reporting requirements to evade any filings by financial institutions and evade income taxes from the IRS,” said IRS Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Daniels. “With both law enforcement and financial investigation expertise, our agents are uniquely qualified to follow these types of financial transactions. Today’s action show the IRS is committed pursing justice for all including those who violate the public trust.”
In sum, Tatum and Huffaker are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951. In addition, Tatum is charged with falsifying records in a federal investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519, and tax evasion, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201.
A complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Tatum and Huffaker are scheduled to make their initial appearance on March 12, 2021, before the United States Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 on the conspiracy charge. In addition, Tatum faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years on the false records charge and 5 years on the tax evasion charge. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. This case is being investigated by the FBI and the IRS-CI.