LOS ANGELES — Three people, one an aide to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, were arrested after claiming to operate a police department with jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico and that traces its roots back 3,000 years.
Brandon Kiel, David Henry and Tonette Hayes were taken into custody last week on suspicion of impersonating officers as members of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said detectives believe other people may be involved in the operation and deputies found ID cards, uniforms, and vehicles that appeared to look like law enforcement vehicles along with other official police equipment during their search of a home and office linked to the group.
It's not clear whether any of the suspects attempted to do any real police work.
State records show Hayes is licensed as a security guard and has a firearm permit. She previously owned Masonic Security Service, while she and Henry run MIB Investigative Agency, though its state license is suspended.
Kiel, 31, worked as deputy director of community affairs at the California Department of Justice since July 2013. He has been on paid administrative leave from his $67,416-a-year civil service job since Thursday.
Department spokesman David Beltran said the agency can't comment on an ongoing personnel matter or criminal investigation. He 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 April 30 and released later that day, according to jail records. Telephone calls and text messages seeking comment were not immediately returned.
In addition to the accusation of impersonating an officer, investigators allege Henry committed perjury under oath. Kiel also is accused of misusing his government identification.
The investigation started after various police chiefs in Southern California received a letter in late January that announced new leadership for the Masonic Fraternal Police Department, sheriff's officials said.
The Jan. 20 letter obtained by The Associated Press after being reported by the Los Angeles Times was copied to Harris. It was written by Kiel, identified as its chief board of director, and Hayes, the grand chief director, and includes a badge emblem with Henry's name below.
In the letter, 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 claims 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 B.C.
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.
Capt. Roosevelt Johnson of the sheriff's department's Santa Clarita Valley station said he met with members of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department on Feb. 4.
Henry and Hayes showed up in black jumpsuits with Masonic Fraternal Police patches and stars on their collars. Hayes had a handgun on her utility belt, Johnson said.
Kiel was there too, wearing a dark navy business suit. They told Johnson they were opening a new Canyon Country police station.
Johnson said he grew wary when they couldn't 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," Johnson said. "That really raised red flags for me."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams.