NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — More than a dozen current and former law enforcement officers from Virginia and North Carolina were in federal custody Thursday, accused of protecting drug shipments and cash.
What the suspects thought was a large drug-trafficking operation was actually an undercover FBI investigation, prosecutors said at a press conference Thursday.
Operation Rockfish was a large-scale undercover investigation into law enforcement corruption — two years in the making. The result happened Thursday morning: 15 people from Virginia and North Carolina were arrested and charged in a 54-count federal indictment.
“They are alleged to have knowingly conspired to move and transport multiple kilogram weights of cocaine and heroin throughout the Interstate 95 corridor, here in North Carolina to National Harbor, Md., and also the state of South Carolina,” said Thomas Walker, US Attorney from the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Among those charged were five current and two former deputies with the Northampton County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Office, three correctional officers from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, two correctional officers from the Virginia Department of Corrections, one Windsor City, N.C. police officer, one Northampton County (N.C.) 911 dispatcher, and one other person not in law enforcement.
“When officers violate the trust that the public has instilled in them, it tears at the very core of what holds a community together,” Walker said.
Prosecutors said one group of suspects was arrested at Northampton County Regional Airport.
“It was from that location that they believed they would be transporting multiple kilograms of illegal narcotics to a warehouse in Rocky Mount, N.C. A second group of defendants were arrested at a warehouse in Rocky Mount, N.C.,” Walker said.
Some of the suspects are accused of attempted extortion, money laundering, bribery, and using guns in connection with drug trafficking. According to one of the bribery counts in the indictment, a sheriff’s deputy accepted a Rolex watch from undercover agents.
“When an officer with a gun and a badge conducts himself or herself in the same way that a street drug dealer does, everyone suffers,” said Raymond Husler, acting chief of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section.
Sheriff Wes Tripp, of Halifax County, N.C., said his deputies forwarded information they had on corruption to the FBI at the beginning of the investigation. Investigators said they used “sham” drugs that suspects thought were real for this operation, and none of them reached the streets.
The Windsor, N.C. police officer charged in the case was suspended without pay, according to Police Chief James Lane. Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith said he would make a decision soon about his deputies.
WAVY News left messages with the Virginia Department of Corrections and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, but did not get a response Thursday.