A former North Bend police officer avoided a prison sentence Tuesday when he pleaded guilty in federal court in Eugene to tipping off an illegal steroid distributor about an ongoing investigation.
William Blair Downing, 43, was placed on probation for five years and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. He also must undergo a mental health evaluation and will have all of his medications monitored while on probation.
Downing, who now lives in Florida, pleaded guilty to warning an illegal distributor of anabolic steroids about a federal investigation, as well as possessing steroids himself. He quit the North Bend Police Department in June 2011 on the day a search warrant was served at his home and he was interviewed by federal agents.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said Downing violated a public trust by using steroids while he was a police officer. She said that put the public at risk had Downing experienced some of the emotional side effects of steroid use while on duty, a scenario she said people live in fear of encountering.
“At some point we have to hold people accountable,” she said.
With the felony conviction, Downing will be barred from working in law enforcement. He apologized, saying he was “very, very, very remorseful for what I’ve done.”
The investigation that led to Downing being charged was an offshoot of a larger federal investigation into alleged fraud by a defense contractor in the Coos Bay area. It began when agents from several agencies served a series of search warrants at the businesses and homes of Ray Bettencourt II and several members of his family.
Downing was familiar with two of Bettencourt’s sons, Harold Ray “Bo” Bettencourt III and Peter Tracy Bettencourt. Downing worked out with them at a local gym and also was buying steroids from the same source as the Bettencourts, according to a sentencing document prepared by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Hoar.
Soon after the search warrants in the fraud investigation were served, Downing called and sent messages to the steroid distributor warning him not to contact him or the Bettencourt sons. He told the man, who lived in Bend, that the Bettencourts were under investigation and federal agents might be monitoring their phone calls and other communications.
Agents at first suspected Downing of tipping off the Bettencourts to the investigation before the search warrants were served, an act that would have exposed Downing to more serious penalties. But Hoar said that even though Downing did poorly on a polygraph test, investigators felt they did not have sufficient evidence to charge him with obstruction of justice or similar crimes.
Both Downing and his attorney, Bryan Lessley, adamantly denied any tip-off before the search warrants being served in September 2010. They said no one in the North Bend Police Department other than the chief knew about the investigation before the day the searches took place.
“I never tipped anyone off about any search warrants,” Downing told the judge. “I did not tip off the Bettencourts.”
During the searches, police found steroids in Peter Bettencourt’s home, Hoar said. They eventually traced them back to the man in Bend, who admitted buying them over the Internet from China and selling them to Downing and Pete Bettencourt.
Five members of the Bettencourt family, two longtime employees and their company, Kustom Products Inc., are named in a federal indictment in connection with selling the military defective knockoff parts for a variety of equipment, including a crucial helicopter part.
Their trial is set for Feb. 14.