Two Columbus, Ohio, police officers were arrested and charged with distributing 7.5 kilograms of fentanyl, ABC 6 reports. Federal prosecutors allege officers Marco R. Merino and John J. Kotchkoski, who were part of the police department’s drug cartel unit, enlisted the help of a private informant to help move drugs with them. In return, the officers promised to provide them with protection from law enforcement.
The affidavit says Merino told the informant that he had the power to intervene should police decide to investigate him. According to court documents, Merino allegedly tried to obtain citizenship in Mexico in order to launder the money earned in their trafficking scheme. He’s said to have also been looking into property to open as Airbnb homes. His last visit to the country was in July.
In addition to the other charges, Merino is also accused of taking in $44,000 overall in bribes as payment for protecting the transportation of cocaine on a number of occasions between March and September. U.S. News however, reports it was a front orchestrated by federal authorities — there was no cocaine on any of the shipments. The operation functioned with Kotchkoski, who kept himself on standby to make any important phone calls on behalf of his partner Merino while he protected the shipment.
Kotchkoski made his first court appearance virtually on Wednesday afternoon and will remain in holding, pending his detention hearing on Friday. Merino will appear for his detention hearing on Thursday. His first court appearance took place on Tuesday. If convicted, the two officers face possible life sentences.
“These allegations are beyond disturbing,” Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said in a statement on 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 continued, adding that both police officers have been suspended pending the outcome of their 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.”
“I am flat out angry. The allegations are disturbing and represent a complete breach of trust,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther, per ABC 6. “It undermines our efforts to rebuild community-police relations at a time when we need to come together to make our neighborhoods safer. The selfish actions of these officers jeopardized the safety of their fellow officers and the community. We will hold these officers accountable, check the abuse of power and remain steadfast in our work to reform policing in Columbus.”