'The Devil's Professor'

September 6, 2011

An erstwhile associate kinesiology professor at California State University at San Bernardino remains on the lam after police raided his home last week and found a pound of methamphetamine and a cache of guns. Police are charging that Stephen Kinzey, who had been on the San Bernardino faculty for a decade, was leading a double life: teaching and researching by day; directing the local chapter of an outlaw biker gang, and its drug business, by night.

Not long after the manhunt began, Albert Karnig, the university’s president, emphasized that no one on the Southern California campus saw this coming: “To our knowledge, this is the first notice that anyone on our campus has had regarding this situation,” Karnig said. “…If the allegations are indeed true, this is beyond disappointing.”

Local newspaper accounts described neighbors, students, and even Kinzey's father as having little or no sense of the professor's alleged outside activities. The Contra Costa Times quoted Kinzey's father as saying that he knew that his son belonged to a motorcycle gang and was not "thrilled" about it (the father taught him to ride). But Hank Kinzey also described his son as "a good Catholic boy" and a Republican, and added: "Everybody's always in denial when it's something to do with their family, but this is really surreal," he said.

How could a full-time college professor run a drug ring on the sly without tipping his hand? Tom Barker, a professor of criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University and leading scholar on outlaw biker gangs, says it is not hard to imagine.

“It’s not uncommon for leaders or members of motorcycle gangs to hold down seemingly legitimate lives,” says Barker, even if part of their responsibility is to oversee an illegal drug business. “A college professor could easily pull it off.”

Barker says he knows of at least two other college professors who are members of outlaw biker gangs, though he would not disclose their names because he says it could cost him his life.

If Kinzey is the kingpin that police suspect he is, “he’s not actually that much involved in actual delivery of drugs,” says Barker. “He’s probably setting up the networks, and he can do that in the way he’s away from the classroom very easily.” In such crime organizations, most of the number-crunching falls to the secretary-treasurer, Barker says.

The actual distribution falls to the members and their associates, the enforcer handles the dirty work, and the president’s leadership duties can be delegated to the vice president when necessary. While the chapter head is like the CEO of a small company, the illegal nature of the business means “there’s not a lot of paperwork,” says Barker.

Barker says he is familiar with the Devil’s Diciples [sic], the gang Kinzey is alleged to have been running. And while he does not know specific details about the San Bernardino chapter, he says that the president of that chapter would have been in charge of anywhere between seven and 25 full-fledged gang members and a broad network of associates and business partners.

He guessed the president of the chapter would personally pull in about a million dollars per year. As an associate kinesiology professor at San Bernardino, Kinzey was probably making around $70,000, according to the annual data produced by the American Association of University Professors.

So if Kinzey was indeed the head of a lucrative drug ring, why continue to teach? Barker says that it may have been a fallback in case the kinesiology professor ever wanted to get out of organized crime. Heading the Devil’s Diciples might pay well, but it lacks the stability and retirement benefits of a state teaching job, Barker says.

Another theory, he adds, is that Kinzey just loved to teach.

Terry Rizzo, the chair of the kinesiology department at San Bernardino, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview; neither did Kinzey’s other colleagues. But student reviews on RateMyProfessors.com suggest that Kinzey had been popular among many students and passionate about his work.

“Dr. Steve Kinsey is an amazing, who helps his students in every situation, including in their greatest need,” wrote one student in 2007. “He is a good friend of mine and we continue to get together on a quarterly basis to catch up on life. Thank god for him, because I wouldn't be a graduate without him!!!!!”

“He's so awesome!” wrote another, later that same year. “He has a passion for everything he does and it shows in his desire for students to succeed and understand.”

More recent reviews paint a less flattering portrait, however.

Kinzey “seems like he does not care anymore,” reported one reviewer in 2008. “im sure he is good at what he does he just isnt clear at all. talks all class and does not get anything done. kinda unorganized, but nice enough.”

In 2010, a student wrote: “the professor sucks, he comes in late and doesn't care, if he try's to help you he'll end up rambling about himself.” And the last review before Kinzey became a fugitive, written last May, depicts a perpetually distracted instructor:

“He's a really good guy and would give you the shirt off his back,” the reviewer wrote. “But something serious must have happened to him because he shows up late, and rambles on about random and controversial topics. He lost his focus & passion for teaching. His behavior lately makes it seem like he wants to get fired.”

“Sad,” the student added, “because I really enjoyed all of his classes.”

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