COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two narcotics officers who serve on the police force in Ohio’s capital city have been arrested by the FBI on charges connected to the distribution of fentanyl and attempts to smuggle other drugs, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Columbus officers John Kotchkoski, 33, and Marco Merino, 44, were arrested Tuesday by FBI agents and were due to make their initial court appearances on Wednesday. Both were in custody and it wasn’t clear if either man had retained an attorney. Each could face a potential life sentence if convicted.
The two officers were involved in the distribution of approximately 7 1/2 kilograms of fentanyl, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio.
Merino is also accused of accepting $44,000 overall in cash bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine on various occasions between March and September of this year, although authorities said there was no actual cocaine and each of the transactions was controlled by federal law enforcement.
While the purported cocaine was being transported, authorities said Kotchkoski made himself available to make any calls that Merino might need to protect the shipment, including to other law enforcement officials.
Merino also tried to recruit a confidential informant to traffic drugs with him, according to court documents, and allegedly promised that person law enforcement protection. The documents also show Merino intended to gain citizenship in Mexico as part of a plan to launder drug proceeds.
“These allegations are beyond disturbing,” Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said in a statement Wednesday. “If proven, such actions would violate the oath our officers take, the standards we must hold ourselves to, and the trust of the public.”
Bryant, who has only been on the job since June, said the two officers have been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal cases.
“I will say it again: when my officers do what’s right, I will always have their back,” Bryant said. “When they don’t, they will be held accountable.”
The Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge #9, a police officers union, said it was aware of the allegations and said that if the allegations are true, “these individuals have no place” in the union or the Columbus police.