|Updated: 10/12/2011 7:44 am
||Published: 10/11/2011 9:26 am
HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) - Five police officers who allegedly guarded drug shipments were among 70 people indicted Tuesday in a sweeping federal investigation into corruption and drug trafficking in eastern Arkansas.
The FBI says the focus of the four-year probe was corrupt law officers dealing with convicted felons who, in some cases, were convicted murderers.
Valerie Parlave, special agent in charge of the FBI's Little Rock office, said the investigation involved officers who are accused of accepting bribes to watch over shipments of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine that moved across state lines.
The five officers used their authority to prevent arrest or prosecution of drug suspects, said U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer.
He said 51 people were arrested during a sweep that began at 4 a.m. and involved 800 state and federal law enforcement officers. Five suspects already were in jail and 14 were still being sought as of Tuesday afternoon.
The officers were among defendants listed in seven federal indictments that brought a total of 184 charges, Thyer said. They worked in worked in Lee and Phillips counties in the Mississippi Delta, a part of the state that has been plagued by mismanagement and allegations that public money has been misused.
The main indictment alleges a drug trafficking operation directed out of Helena-West Helena "was responsible for the distribution of large quantities of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana" and other drugs in east Arkansas, Memphis, Tenn., and Clarksdale, Miss., along with other areas.
"This was a very substantial drug trafficking organization," Thyer said.
The main indictment includes part of a recorded conversation between Phillips County sheriff's Deputy Winston Dean Jackson, who faces multiple charges, and another unidentified deputy talking about a payment by a defense lawyer in exchange for "failing to perform law enforcement duties."
The unidentified deputy said the payment fell under "the good old boy" system and that anyone not involved would "get rolled over."
According to the indictment, Jackson responded, "You get rolled over, exactly. Cause nobody say ... ain't nothing but the good old boy system."
Included in the other indictments are charges that Helena-West Helena police officers Herman Eaton, Robert "Bam Bam" Rogers and Marlene Kalb escorted drug shipments, each receiving $500. A Marvell police officer, Robert Wahls, is charged with accepting money from an informant and escorting a drug shipment.
The indictment says some of the payments were made by a person posing as a drug dealer. But it also notes that some payments were made to the officers by defense lawyers. Thyer wouldn't say whether those unidentified attorneys are caught in the investigation.
Thyer said the five officers remained in custody and he expected them to be segregated from the general prison population for their own safety. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys yet. The suspects are to be arraigned in federal court in Little Rock starting Thursday morning.
Authorities said they had received information throughout the "Operation Delta Blues" investigation from multiple sources.
"The allegations varied, but it basically had to do with different levels of law enforcement corruption," Parlave said.
Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis had asked more than a month ago for help with rooting out corrupt law enforcement officers, Thyer said.
"They were asking for help. We are here today giving that help," Thyer said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
The five police officers charged are:
- Robert Rogers, police officer for the Helena-West Helena Police Department
- Herman Eaton, police officer for the Helena-West Helena Police Department
- Marlene Kalb, police sergeant for the Helena-West Helena Police Department
- Robert Wahls, police officer for the Marvell Police Department
- Winston Dean Jackson, then Phillips County Deputy Sheriff.