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As a drug investigator in Yuba County, California, Christopher Mark Heath made a living tracking down smugglers selling locally harvested marijuana.
Now the former Marine is accused of crossing the line and joining the traffickers, a turn that could undermine dozens of cases he worked as a deputy sheriff in one of the country's most productive, and policed, pot-growing regions.
Heath, 37, and two of his alleged partners from northern California were arrested late last month in rural West Manheim Township, Pennsylvania, after police said they intercepted a planned delivery. In the men's pickup trucks, officers found more than 122 pounds of pot and about $11,000 cash. Heath admitted that they'd driven the bundles — worth an estimated $2 million — across the country, according to court documents.
At the time, Heath was on vacation as a member of a narcotics task force covering Yuba and Sutter counties, north of Sacramento, authorities said. He had his badge and service gun in his car, York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said in a news conference Monday.
Heath has been released after posting $1 million bail with help from a bond company, according to court documents. He and his alleged partners are due to appear in a York County, Pennsylvania courtroom next month. He has been placed on leave from the Yuba County Sheriff's Office.
Heath did not return a phone message seeking comment; it was not clear if he'd been assigned a lawyer.
Authorities have not said what led them to Heath's crew, or whether they'd been to Pennsylvania before. A parallel investigation is now underway in California, where prosecutors face the huge task of reviewing dozens of cases Heath worked, Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath said.
McGrath said his office had identified 40 pending cases where he was the leading investigator. In some, prosecutors will be able to move forward with the case, and others will have to be dismissed, he said.
At the same time, McGrath said, his office will contact defense attorneys who represented people convicted in cases investigated by Heath and invite them to file whatever legal motions they believe are appropriate. Those motions, which could include requests for the convictions to be dismissed, would then go before a judge.
The most vulnerable cases are those in which Heath was a key witness, providing testimony or evidence that may no longer be considered legitimate, McGrath said.
"His credibility is shot and we have no guarantee how long his criminal behavior was going on," McGrath said.