LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A police officer in Helena-West Helena said he agreed to escort shipments of heroin because he "really needed the money," an FBI special agent testified Thursday.
Herman Eaton was one of five law enforcement officers arrested in "Operation Delta Blues," which focused on corruption and drug trafficking in the Mississippi Delta. Seventy people have been indicted. The officers are accused of taking bribes to help drug dealers move through the city and look the other way on crimes.
A judge denied bail to Eaton Thursday after the testimony of FBI special agent Ward Seale, who described how authorities collected audio and video recordings of Eaton talking to a federal informant.
The informant was a convicted drug dealer who originally told authorities that Eaton used to store drugs and drug money at his home, Seale said. The informant first approached Eaton in August and showed him what appeared to be about $400,000 worth of heroin in the back of his car, Seale said. The drugs were fake, he said.
When the informant said he needed a police officer to protect him as he drove the drugs from the city to a bridge leading into Mississippi, Eaton allegedly replied, "You don't have to pay anybody. Pay me. I'll do it."
Three times, Eaton took a $500 bribe to escort what he thought were drugs, Seale said. When he was arrested last week — along with dozens of other people in a pre-dawn raid of Helena-West Helena — Eaton admitted that "he really needed the money and that's why he did it," Seale said. He now faces drug trafficking and extortion charges.
As Seale testified, Eaton repeatedly looked back at the courtroom gallery, where his family was seated, and shook his head. He mouthed the word "No" several times.
Eaton's attorney, Blake Hendrix, argued that the case had several flaws.
Under questioning, Seale acknowledged that authorities did not tape Eaton's alleged confession. The agent also said that the informant who snared Eaton cooperated with authorities to get a sentence reduction for a friend who pleaded guilty to another crime. The informant and the friend were not identified.
Authorities also did not search Eaton's home for drugs or find any of the money from bribes Eaton allegedly accepted, Seale said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Volpe said the evidence presented in court was "clear and convincing" in proving that Eaton didn't deserve bond. Volpe said he was troubled by the allegations against a police officer in a "very important position" as well as several prior arrests for domestic violence.
Eaton's fiance, Tracy Williams, said in court that she would take in Eaton and his four children if he was released from jail. But Volpe pointed out that Williams already had three children in her house.
"I think we'd be putting Mr. Eaton in a pressure cooker, with seven children, with a history of domestic violence," Volpe said.
Volpe had already denied bond to two officers, Robert "Bam Bam" Rogers of Helena-West Helena and Robert Wahls of nearby Marvell. The remaining two, Helena-West Helena's Marlene Kalb and Phillips County sheriff's deputy Winston Dean Jackson, have waived their right to request bond immediately.
All of the Helena-West Helena officers are on unpaid administrative leave.
Two people indicted in Operation Delta Blues remain at large, an FBI spokesman said Wednesday afternoon.
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