Trio 'operated fake police force'
Three people, including a pastor and a man who works for California's attorney general, have been charged after claiming to operate a rogue police force with jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico that traces its roots back 3,000 years.
Brandon Kiel, David Henry and Tonette Hayes were taken into custody on suspicion of impersonating officers as members of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said.
Detectives believe other people may be involved in the operation.
Deputies found ID cards, uniforms and police-style vehicles along with other official police equipment during their search of a home and office linked to the group.
But sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said there was no indication the group was stopping the public or conducting other policing activities.
State records show Hayes, a pastor, is licensed as a security guard and has a firearm permit. She previously owned Masonic Security Service and she and Henry run the Beverly Hills-based MIB Investigative Agency, though its state licence is suspended.
Henry is a licensed security guard and also has a firearm permit.
Kiel, 31, who worked as deputy director of community affairs at the California Department of Justice since July 2013, has been on paid administrative leave from his £44,000-a-year civil service job since yesterday.
Department spokesman David Beltran said the agency could not comment on an ongoing personnel matter or criminal investigation but said Kiel "worked with members of the public basically on issues and questions regarding the work of the department".
Kiel, Henry, 46, and Hayes, 59, were arrested on April 30 and released later that day, according to jail records.
All three were charged on April 28 with multiple counts of impersonating an officer and other misdemeanors, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.
Henry has been charged with committing perjury under oath for declaring the Masonic Fraternal Police Department is a state agency. Kiel is charged with misusing his government identification.
Hayes moderated a debate between sheriff's candidates in the most recent election, Ms Nishida said.
Henry won an Emmy in 2002 for his work as a producer on a Fox11 story, according to Variety.com. He also co-produced a documentary with Hayes several years later about a long-time civil rights leader, the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper said in 2007.
The investigation started after police chiefs in California received a letter in late January that announced new leadership for the Masonic Fraternal Police Department.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, was copied to Harris and written by Kiel, identified as its chief board of director, and Hayes, the grand chief director, and included a badge emblem with Henry's name below.
The group claims it is registered with the state and is informing the chief it will be working with "Grandmasters, as well as fraternities and sororities throughout Sovereign Jurisdictions around the country".
The letter says there are 5,686 lodges and that the department "will be able to acquire intel that is not accessible to non-fraternal entities". It said one aim of the department was to restore public trust.
A website for the Masonic police force says the group was created by the Knights Templar in 1100 BC.
A man claiming to be Kiel and describing himself as chief deputy director of the police force later followed up with various law enforcement agencies to schedule sit-down meetings, officials said.
Captain Roosevelt Johnson of the sheriff's department's Santa Clarita Valley station said he met members of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department on February 4.
Henry and Hayes arrived in black jumpsuits with Masonic Fraternal Police patches and stars on their collars. Hayes had a handgun on her utility belt, Capt Johnson said. Kiel was there too, wearing a dark navy business suit.
They told Capt Johnson they were opening a new Canyon Country police station, but he grew wary when they could not answer questions about where they derived their authority or jurisdictional issues.
"Brandon Kiel gave me a business card from the Department of Justice, showing he worked out of Kamala Harris' office," Capt Johnson said. "That really raised red flags for me."