As one of the inspirations for the 2015 Disney film “McFarland, USA,” a former Bakersfield detective pleaded guilty on Tuesday to bribery, stealing drugs, and failing to report nearly $100,000 on his taxes. Facing up to life in prison, his former partner also accepted a plea bargain this week in connection with the case.
Based on the true story of a 1987 high school cross country team from McFarland, California, the Disney film starred Kevin Costner as their inspirational coach. Depicted in the film, three of the teenage boys on the victorious team included Damacio Diaz and his two brothers.
While employed as a police officer with the Bakersfield Police Department between April 2012 and February 2015, Diaz recently admitted to receiving bribes from a criminal informant in exchange for intelligence on law enforcement activities as well as protection from investigation and arrest. Fully aware of his informant’s ongoing criminal activities, Diaz continued accepting bribes from the informant for nearly three years.
On September 20, 2012, Diaz and his partner conducted a traffic stop which resulted in a police dog discovering 10 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside an ice chest. Logging only one pound into evidence, Diaz and his partner stole the other nine pounds of meth and later sold it for personal gain.
According to the plea agreement, Diaz also filed a joint income tax return for the calendar year 2012 that falsely reported total income of $168,485 and did not include additional income of at least $97,900.
“The defendant attempted to take advantage of the trust placed in law enforcement officers for his personal gain,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert. “Law enforcement officers who accept bribes put the public and other law enforcement officers in danger.”
A 17-year veteran of the Bakersfield Police Department, Diaz was arrested in November and pleaded guilty on Tuesday to bribery, possession and attempted possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and making and subscribing a false income tax return. Agreeing to a forfeiture of $128,000 obtained from his criminal activities, Diaz faces up to life in prison with a potential $1 million fine.
Diaz’s former partner, Det. Patrick Mara, also accepted a plea deal this week in connection with the charges against Diaz. While refusing to discuss any details of the case, Mara’s attorney, Fred Gagliardini, announced on Tuesday that his client also faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
“Four years ago I put myself in a compromising situation and I said ‘yes’ when I should have said ‘no.’ Things snowballed out of control pretty rapidly,” Mara told reporters. “As far as why I didn’t come forward sooner… I was ashamed of my actions and my decisions.”
According to BPD Chief Greg Williamson, five other officers had also been under federal investigation but were eventually cleared. The BPD is currently investigating those officers to determine whether they violated any department policies.
Joining the BPD in January 2003, Mara recently confessed that he “tarnished the badge” and apologized to the city of Bakersfield for his deplorable actions under the color of authority.