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The Region

Probe Targets Ex-Sheriff in Gun Case

San Bernardino County's Floyd Tidwell is suspected of illegally giving firearms to a son.

March 26, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County officials are investigating whether the county's former longtime sheriff, Floyd Tidwell, illegally gave his son Danial dozens of guns that belonged to the Sheriff's Department, law enforcement officials familiar with the case said Thursday.

Last year, deputies searched the home of the younger Tidwell, a former sheriff's deputy, as part of a probe into allegations that he was illegally soliciting bail business for his Boone's Bail Bonds company, based in Fontana.

As part of the search, they found a Remington 870 shotgun and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which were property of the Sheriff's Department, court documents show.

A Sheriff's Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that eventually "dozens" of guns belonging to the department were retrieved from the home.

Investigators have not yet determined whether the guns were all sheriff-issued or some had been confiscated from suspects, the official said.

"It was like we were looking under the couch for the remote control, and instead, we found the car keys," said a second sheriff's official familiar with the investigation, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

In January, Danial Tidwell was charged with felony embezzlement of the guns as well as illegal bail solicitation. He pleaded not guilty in February.

David Call, Floyd Tidwell's attorney, acknowledged that the former sheriff is being investigated as the possible source for some or all of the guns.

"If they want to bring charges, he's prepared to meet them," Call said. "They should know that [Tidwell] is a hero to this county; he's bigger than life. What they're doing, the intimation ... it's like they're claiming John Wayne was a criminal."

Call acknowledged that Floyd Tidwell owned numerous guns. "He was a sheriff; he had a lot of guns, just like the general of an army would," he said. He questioned the investigation's merits.

"His sons were deputy sheriffs themselves -- who's to say the guns weren't theirs?" Call said.

Reached at home in Phelan, Floyd Tidwell declined to comment. Asked whether he knew about the investigation, he replied, "No, I don't."

Michael Risley, an assistant district attorney for criminal operations who is supervising the criminal case in the bail matter, declined to comment on the investigation except to say: "I can confirm that there are multiple facets of the investigation, including multiple suspects."

Illegally transferring a gun can be the basis for a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on the value of the weapon.

In addition to Danial Tidwell, another son, Steven, and three other members of the family were charged in the bail solicitation scheme.

Steven Tidwell and his wife, Karole, and a brother-in-law, Joe Nash, have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in the case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

A May 7 hearing in San Bernardino County Superior Court is scheduled for Danial Tidwell and the remaining co-defendants in the case. Prosecutors allege that Danial Tidwell and others conspired to solicit jail inmates for their bail business, awarding the inmates with perks such as illegal three-way phone calling privileges and cash deposits into their jail bank accounts.

Floyd Tidwell is distraught "that his kids have been dragged through the press" and by the continuing investigation, Call said.

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