Police chief at busiest US port indicted in alleged kickback, bribery scam involving phone app

A federal grand jury indicted the veteran police chief for the Port of Los Angeles in an alleged kickback and bribery scheme involving the development of a smartphone app that was supposed to help reduce crime at the nation's busiest seaport.

Ronald Jerome Boyd, 57, was named in a 16-count indictment that alleged wire fraud, lying to FBI agents, tax evasion and failing to file federal corporate tax returns.

Boyd, who recently was promoted to lead the port's homeland security operations as well, agreed to surrender to federal agents next week, said Daniel J. O'Brien, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

He was indicted Thursday, when the port also put him on administrative leave.

The ports of Los Angeles and neighboring Long Beach are the primary West Coast gateway for hundreds of billions of dollars of annual trade, much of it with Asia.

Boyd became chief of Los Angeles Port Police in 2004, and oversees 204 sworn officers who police 43 miles of waterfront, according to a port website. In January, he began overseeing divisions that handle emergency, homeland security and information technology.

Boyd previously worked in law enforcement at Los Angeles International Airport, according to his biography. In the 1970s and '80s, he helped Ray Charles with everything from wardrobe to getting around as a "valet," according to David Brokaw, spokesman for a foundation bearing the R&B legend's name.

Charles "really took (Boyd) under his wing," Brokaw said. "They were very close."

Edward Robinson, Boyd's attorney, said he looks forward to defending his client.

"We're confident, let's put it this way," he said.

The charges stem from a project to develop a smartphone app, dubbed PortWatch, that was supposed to notify the public of emergencies and allow people to report crimes at the sprawling port complex.

An October 2012 news release quoted Boyd as saying, "We believe that our PortWatch app is the first of its kind nationally and our hope is that it will provide for a better means of disseminating critical information to our constituents and a more meaningful and speedy response to any reported incident."

The program has not been fully launched. Port spokesman Phillip Sanfield described it as a "test beta product."

Beginning in 2011, the city's Harbor Department began soliciting interest from various companies that might be able to develop a smartphone application for the project.

According to the indictment, Boyd and two business partners formed a Torrance-based company called BDB Digital Communications that cut a deal with one firm — identified only as Company X — to share revenue from the sale of a similar app called Metrowatch to other government agencies.

Boyd was to receive more than 13 percent of gross revenues, the indictment said. But the deal depended on Company X getting the contract for PortWatch.

The indictment alleges that for about a year, Boyd worked on behalf of Company X, including repeatedly meeting with Company X officials to disclose confidential information. He also met with the Los Angeles mayor and city attorney, and edited the "scope of work" for the PortWatch contract so he could personally monitor the app's development, the indictment said.

Company X got the smartphone app contract in 2012, O'Brien said.

However, the indictment doesn't indicate that Boyd ever received any money from the deal.

Among other things, Boyd also is charged with failing to file tax returns from 2008 to 2011 for a security business he ran called At Close Range, and with evading taxes by underreporting his income from 2007 through 2011.

A Port of Los Angeles official said the port and the city will fully cooperate with investigators.


Contact Justin Pritchard at http://twitter.com/lalanewsman .