Two ordered held, third pleads guilty in Kinzey meth case

SAN BERNARDINO – A Redlands man and woman were ordered held on conspiracy charges at a hearing earlier this week in connection with a methemphetamine trafficking ring that was allegedly run by Cal State professor Steve Kinzey.

Co-defendants in the case, Chelsea Marie Johnson and Eric Cortez, appeared for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday before Judge Douglas N. Gericke in San Bernardino Superior Court, according to court records.

After listening to testimony from three witnesses, Gericke ruled that sufficient evidence existed to hold over the pair for trial, court records state.

Johnson, 34, faces one count of conspiracy, while Cortez, 31, is charged with conspiracy and possession of a controlled substance for sale. They return to court Tuesday to be formally arraigned on the charges.

A third co-defendant, Wendi Lee Witherell, also appeared in San Bernardino Superior Court, where she was the first of 11 defendants in the case to plead guilty as part of a plea bargain.

Witherell, 34, of Mentone, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy before Judge Kenneth Barr, according to court records. She was ordered released from custody on her own recognizance, and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 26.

Witherell’s expected sentence was not immediately available. Barr ordered Witherell not to have contact with any of the co-defendants in the case, court records indicate.

Johnson, 34, and Cortez, 31, have pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied all allegations in the criminal complaint filed in Superior Court.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s detectives say Kinzey allegedly purchased large amounts of methamphetamine from Jeremy Disney, 30, of San Bernardino and distributed those quantities to Johnson and Cortez, who then split the drugs into smaller amounts for mid-level and street-level dealers.

Kinzey is president of the San Bernardino Mountains chapter of the Devil’s Diciples, a group founded in Fontana in 1967, deputies said. He also has taught kinesiology at Cal State San Bernardino for 10 years.

Local, county and federal law enforcement launched the “Devil’s Professor” investigation six months ago, which culminated in a raid Aug. 26 at Kinzey’s East Highlands Ranch home, sheriff’s deputies said.

Kinzey is out of custody on a $300,000 bond and is scheduled to return to court Oct. 28.

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