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Veteran San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy arrested on gun charges, ties to Mongols gang

‘The actions of this deputy are alarming and inexcusable’ and undermine the integrity and credibility of the entire department, Sheriff Shannon Dicus said

Joe Nelson portrait by Eric Reed. 2023. (Eric Reed/For The Sun/SCNG)Tony Saavedra. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register)

Since January, San Bernardino County sheriff’s investigators have been secretly watching Deputy Christopher Bingham, a firearms expert and former gun shop owner with suspected ties to the notorious Mongols motorcycle group.

Their surveillance led to the arrest Thursday, April 4, of the 45-year-old Twentynine Palms resident, who was booked into West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, with bail set at $500,000. He has been charged with stealing a shotgun from the department, participating in a criminal street gang and possessing a machine gun, a short-barreled rifle, silencers and the stolen shotgun.

Bingham, an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, is expected to be arraigned by video on Monday, April 8.

• April 9, 2024 update: San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy with alleged ties to Mongols motorcycle gang pleads not guilty

“The actions of this deputy are alarming and inexcusable; he not only tarnishes his badge but also undermines the integrity and credibility of the entire department,” Sheriff Shannon Dicus said. “Criminal behavior will not be tolerated, and we have placed him on compulsory leave effective immediately.”

Bingham’s downfall came March 23, when a detective following the deputy saw him riding a Harley-Davidson along with another man near Onaga Trail and Elk Trail in Yucca Valley, according to a source close to the investigation. Bingham’s companion was wearing a black leather vest with Mongols gang patches.

The detective followed Bingham and the other man onto the westbound 10 Freeway and alerted the California Highway Patrol. A CHP officer pulled Bingham and the other man over for speeding as they approached Highland Springs Road in Beaumont. Both men told the officer they were carrying knives, the source said.

While searching the two men, the officer found an unregistered Glock 9mm handgun on Bingham, who identified himself as “law enforcement.” The sheriff’s detective subsequently arrested Bingham at the scene and took him to the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, where Bingham was booked on suspicion of being a gang member carrying a loaded firearm.

A Sheriff’s Department news release, however, said Bingham was riding with “two OMG (outlaw motorcycle gang) members” at the time of his arrest.

At the jail, the source said, Bingham was again searched. He wore a T-shirt that read, “(Expletive) the 81!” The number “81” is a nickname for the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle club, a longtime rival of the Mongols. Also on the T-shirt were the initials “SYLM,” which stands for “Support Your Local Mongols.” Bingham also was wearing a ring — with the black letter “M” on it — that hung from a chain around his neck, according to the source.

Bingham subsequently was released from custody.

Investigators later that day searched Bingham’s home on Adobe Road in Twentynine Palms, finding about 160 firearms, including a modified, fully automatic assault rifle with an attached grenade launcher, the stolen Remington 870 shotgun, a customized AR-15 assault rifle with a 12-inch barrel, the silencers and Mongols paraphernalia.

District Attorney Jason Anderson could not say Friday whether Bingham is suspected of trafficking guns for the Mongols, nor could he confirm Bingham’s supposed affiliation with the outlaw motorcycle gang. Anderson was, however, able to confirm one thing with certainty.

“This appears to involve the Mongols, without question,” Anderson said.

Bingham has been with the Sheriff’s Department since September 2005, and earned $288,012 in pay and benefits in 2022, according to Transparent California, a public pay database.

According to published reports, Bingham testified in a 2019 double-murder trial in which he sold a 45-caliber handgun to the defendant before the killings. During the trial, Bingham was identified as the owner of the O’Three Tactical gun shop in Twentynine Palms, which closed in June 2021 after six years in operation.

On a Facebook posting, the owner said: “After being unable to maintain any kind of inventory and hemmoraging (sic) my own personal finances over the last year trying to keep our doors open, O’Three Tactical will be permanently closing its doors.”

The post continued, “Please do no (sic) start calling my personal phone or showing up at my front door.”