Stephen Kinzey, a 43-year-old professor of kinesiology at the California State University of San Bernardino, led a double life. That’s what police figured out after they ran a monthlong surveillance operation on him in 2011. When the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced, two summers ago, that a professor was the mastermind behind a meth distribution network, fans of AMC’s Breaking Bad made an obvious connection between Kinzey and the fictional science-genius-turned-international-meth-slinger Walter White.
And there are similarities. Like Walt and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman in their start-up days, Kinzey was the supplier for a small crew of street-level meth dealers. Kinzey had his own Skylar — a live-in girlfriend, a former student of his named Holly Robinson, who helped out in the family business. And, like Walt, he was also feared and respected by his students before he became an outlaw.
But now, court documents obtained by BuzzFeed show how Kinzey lacked much of the sophistication and caution one would need to thrive in the highly hazardous meth business.
Kinzey, a husky guy with a broad gut, bald head, and silver-streaked 4-inch goatee, made an impression on his C-SUSB students. “He might seem like a very tough guy,” one student wrote about Kinzey on Ratemyprofessor.com, “but that is just the outside. You show him respect and you have a friend for life.” Kinzey held a doctorate from the University of Toledo in Ohio, a master’s degree from Indiana State University, and a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in Detroit.
Another former student described Kinzey on the site as “awesome,” adding that he showed a “passion for everything he does and it shows in his desire for students to succeed and understand.” A few students complained that he was a little disorganized and often late to his lectures. But overall, as one student put it, Kinzey was “a cool cat.”
Maybe too cool. In thinly veiled texts to dealers about “onions” and “study supplies,” Kinzey coordinated bulk drug buys, drop-offs, and trafficked meth out of his two-story Spanish-style house in the city of Highland, just outside San Bernardino.
Earlier this month, the state began presenting its evidence against Kinzey so a judge can determine if the case could go to trial. Hearings on the evidence against Kinzey will continue in October; court documents show that Kinzey was in contact with drug dealers over prices and quantities of meth.
Not helping Kinzey’s case is his membership — presidency to be exact — in the Mountain chapter of the Devils Diciples (intentionally misspelled, the group’s lore goes, to distance themselves from any religious overtones), an “outlaw” biker club considered by the FBI to be on par with the Hell’s Angels in terms of criminal activity.
His biker pals, who knew the professor as Skinz, claim that Kinzey — who along with 10 others has been charged with a range of felony drug offenses — is innocent. Seven of the 10 defendants have pleaded guilty. Kinzey has entered a not guilty plea. “One side of him was a successful and productive member of society, Sgt. Paul Wynn, a lead investigator of the case, told The New York Times in 2011. “But the other side of him is an outlaw motorcycle gang leader. He was the highest-ranking person in the group, without a doubt.”
The sheriff’s office raid on Kinzey’s home on Pleasant View lane produced one pound of meth, two handguns, two rifles, two sets of brass knuckles, a pistol, a shotgun, a police baton, a bulletproof vest, and several sew-on Devil’s Diciples patches, including one for his girlfriend that read, “Property of Skinz.”
After the raid, the police could not locate Kinzey; he wasn’t in California when police came to arrest him on Aug. 26, 2011. Police believe he fled the state when his eight co-conspirators were arrested. Kinzey claims he was in Michigan visiting his father, Hank Kinzey, who later posted $30,000 bail for his son’s release. “Was I thrilled about it? No,” the senior Kinzey told the press after his son flew back to California and turned himself into police. “College professor by day, biker by night. But he’s still Stephen. He’s a good young man.” Kinzey’s father said his son was not a drinker or a smoker and he was the only Republican in a family of Democrats. “It’s like finding out your house burned down,” he added. “I can’t believe it’s true. I have no reason to believe it’s true.”
Kinzey soon came back to California, and he turned himself in on September 9. He avoided arrest because his father had helped pay the $30,000 bond earlier in the week. His contract at the University was not renewed, and his picture and information were scrubbed from the faculty’s website.
Kinzey on a cruiser.
The indictment against Kinzey claims that he was the supplier to at least three mid-level drug dealers: Eric Cortez, Edward Freer, and Hans Pressler. Court documents show that the dealers mainly supplied a group of female meth users with prior possession charges.
Below is the state’s current evidence against Kinzey, derived from over 1,000 hours of intercepted calls and text messages during a monthlong wiretap.
• On Aug. 7, 2011, around 11 p.m., Kinzey sent the following text message to Cortez: “Yo bro r u nearby? Lets set a time right now no bullshit and plan on doing the rental car early 2mrw.” He sends another message telling Cortez to “come by asap so they can set it up face to face and bring whatever cabbage u got for my soup cuz ingredients are low.”
• According to GPS data gathered from both Cortez and Kinzey’s cell phones, the two men were at Kinzey’s home on Pleasant View Lane the following morning of August 8. The two men head to Avis Rent A Car center in Redlands. Kinzey leaves town in the rental car, returning the next day. Kinzey sends Cortez a text saying, “Bring as much paper as possible rental car was a big bill. It was 980.”
• Detectives station a surveillance team outside of Kinzey’s residence and a separate team at Cortez’s residence. They observe that Cortez and a woman, Chelsea Johnson, share a car that is often parked in Cortez’s driveway.
• On August 12, detectives observe a woman, Valerie Collins, pushing a child with a stroller leaving Cortez’s house. Police follow her.
• An hour later, Chelsea Johnson and another white female leave Cortez’s house and go to Target.
• Police pull over Valerie Collins and search her car using a drug dog. Valerie calls Chelsea and tells her what happened. Chelsea calls Cortez and tells him “to put everything away” because Valerie was just searched. Cortez says “OK” and instructs some one in the background to put everything away, “It’s bad.”
• Cortez calls Wendi Wethrill, a woman who has bought meth from Cortez before, and asks if “she got fucked with or pulled over or anything.” Wendi says, “No, I hide that shit before I leave. Know what I mean? They ain’t finding shit on me.”
• On August 17, Kinzey gets a phone call at 8:35 a.m. from Chris Rikerd for, according to police, a “narcotics transaction.” Kinzey tells him, “It’s there but I’m just not there.” Kinzey tells Rickerd that he will call his “old lady,” Holly Robinson, to see if she’s awake. Rickerd goes to Kinzey’s house. Later Kinzey calls Rickerd to find out how much Holly gave him. Rickerd explains he took “one onion and a quarter of an onion.” He assures Kinzey he will pay him back.
• Kinzey texts Jeremy Disney on August 25; Disney, another drug supplier, has a long felony rap sheet. His crimes include burglary, grand theft auto, domestic violence, possession of methamphetamine, and assault with a firearm. Kinzey asks Disney if he has “any study materials.” Disney texts back, “I might az well get a degree lol.” Kinzey responds that he has need “for some top shelf materials” but that Disney may be pricing him “out of the game.” Kinzey request that each unit “be under 7.” Disney texts back, “685 workable grounds? An iz there a deposit available?”
• Kinzey tells Disney he is on the road and immediate payment is a problem. “In Iowa on my way back,” Kinzey texts, “and all my peeps are starving cuz we been dry since sunday.” He adds, “my local guys are jonseing and they will turn and burn.”
• Disney agrees to give Kinzey the product without immediate payment. Kinzey asks Disney if he can drop off the supplies “at his main office” and his girlfriend, Holly Robinson, “will do the rest.”
• Three days later, Disney is spotted carrying a black package into Kinzey’s residence. He leaves 10 minutes later in a white Acura. He was followed and arrested by police.
• Holly Robinson sends texts to multiple numbers, “Guess what I have!? But I have to run to the bank real quick.” Eric Cortez, Hans Preszler, and Edward Freer arrive at Kinzey’s house to buy meth from Robinson.
That’s when the police show up.
It is unclear if the dealers Kinzey supplied were connected to the Devil’s Diciples or other gangs. If the court is not able to prove that a gang directly profited off the drug sales allegedly coordinated by Kinzey, then the charges may be reduced.
Kinzey at his arraignment hearing in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Below is the status of the defendants charged, per the Press-Enterprise:
Stephen Kinzey: Pleaded not guilty to possession of a controlled substance for sale, receiving stolen property, conspiracy to distribute illegal narcotics, being in possession of a controlled substance while armed with a loaded firearm, and participating in a criminal street gang.
Holly Robinson: Pleaded not guilty to possession of a controlled substance for sale, conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance while armed with loaded firearm.
Hans Preszler: Pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.
Jeremy Disney: Pleaded not guilty to possession of a controlled substance for sale, conspiracy.
Eric Cortez: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 119 days in jail, three years’ probation. On June 20, 2012, Cortez got another 177 days in jail for violating probation.
Edward Freer: Pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substance for sale. He was sentenced to approximately 13 months in jail.
Chelsea Marie Johnson: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 165 days in jail with three years’ probation.
Wendi Lee Witherell: Pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substance for sale. She was sentenced to 100 days in jail with three years’ probation.
Christopher Allen Rikerd: Pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, participating in a criminal street gang. He was sentenced to approximately 11 months in prison.