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Man pleads guilty in fake-police scheme

PIKEVILLE — A welder and former coal-company employee pleaded guilty Monday to using a gun in a scheme to impersonate police and Operation UNITE investigators and rob people of pills and cash in Letcher and Knott counties.

Tony Ray Herald said he worked with Vernon Todd Griffie, a former Perry County volunteer sheriff's deputy, to go to the homes of people they suspected of being drug dealers. They would scope out the houses and arrange to buy drugs, he said.

Later, the two would return dressed as sheriff's deputies or police officers, claiming to be part of the Operation UNITE Eastern Kentucky drug task force. They would put the victims in handcuffs and take cash and pills.

A federal judge in Pikeville set Herald's sentencing date for Aug. 17. The charges carry a penalty of at least seven years in prison.

In the Letcher County case in September 2007, Herald robbed Mayking resident Oscar Craft of the painkiller Lorcet, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and $178 in cash.

An accomplice in that case, Brooke Leann Collins, pleaded guilty in February to helping Herald and Griffie. She said she had been hired to clean Craft's house and bought a Lorcet pill from him, then she received a call from Herald and told him there were no guns in the house.

Herald and Griffie, according to Collins' plea agreement, then burst into the house, put Craft and Collins in restraints and took the pills and money.

Collins is scheduled to be sentenced June 1.

Herald said during his rearraignment Monday that he and Griffie used similar methods in a Knott County robbery in August 2007. He said that he arranged to buy drugs from a Knott man and that later he and Griffie went to the house dressed as officers and robbed the suspected dealer. Herald wore a mask in that instance.

Griffie filed in April for a rearraignment to plead guilty and is awaiting a second psychiatric evaluation after a suicide attempt, according to court records.