Ten metro Atlanta law officers are in police custody, accused of using their guns, badges and authority to facilitate drug deals under orders of a street gang.
An FBI SWAT team arrested the current and former cops Tuesday for taking payoffs — some as low as $700 — to protect cocaine deals taking place in crowded shopping centers and school parking lots. Five alleged accomplices also were arrested.
“Obviously the breadth of the corruption is very troubling,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates. “It is certainly the most (officers) this office has charged in a long time.
“These are people they are supposed to be arresting, not taking money from,” she said.
The arrested officers came from wide swath of law agencies: Atlanta, Stone Mountain, Forest Park and the DeKalb County police and Sheriff’s Office. Officers from MARTA and a contract agent for the Federal Protective Service also were arrested.
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Some were long-term veterans. Senior Atlanta police Officer Kelvin Allen had been with the department for 20 years. APD announced shortly after Allen’s arrest that he had been suspended.
DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner joined Yates as she announced the arrests.
“The department has been and will continue to be cooperative with federal authorities to ensure that Atlanta police officers involved in any illegal activity are brought to justice,” the APD said in a statement.
At least some officers appeared willing to kill to protect their gang employers — although no violence was reported. Just before a deal with a new buyer Jan. 30, DeKalb police Officer Dorian Williams told confederate Shannon Bass that wounding was not an option. “I gotta (expletive) kill him, I just can’t shoot him,” Williams said in a secretly recorded conversation, according to the federal affidavit. Bass was among the accused accomplices arrested.
Williams recommended using a high school parking lot for the afternoon transactions because the activity and backpacks wouldn’t look suspicious, the affidavit said.
A former DeKalb County Jail officer, Monyette McLaurin, lied to his criminal colleagues by claiming he was an active duty deputy, the affidavit said, and he discussed with Gregory Lee Harvey, who also was arrested, the need to possibly kill someone.
Attempts to reach Allen, Williams and McLaurin for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Authorities haven’t released a lot of details but Yates said the investigation is ongoing. The accused officers were arrested quickly and without warning, FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Giulano said. Some of the alleged illegal transactions took place last month, Giulano said.
The case began in August 2011 as a street gang investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, whose undercover agents learned the gang had officers on the payroll for protection, Yates said. The FBI took over the police corruption aspects of the case.
The cops were recruited by individuals who offered to provide police protection for a street gang’s drug deals — from both honest cops who might arrest them and crooks who would rob them. The officer and the broker divided payments that ranged as high $7,000 and as low as $2,200 — sometimes with the broker with getting a sweeter share, according to federal affidavits. A broker reported one officer received only a $700 share.
The officers were in full uniform and often driving patrol vehicles, and would stand stand guard as informants and drug traffickers swapped backpacks containing cash and what was supposed to be cocaine, the affidavit said. A DeKalb officer charged $800 extra for the use of the patrol car, the affidavit said.
The FBI and ATF set up a sting by having an informant tell gang members and their associates that he needed police protection for upcoming drug deals. Three people — Shannon Bass, 38, and Elizabeth Coss, 35, both of Atlanta, and Jeffry B. Mannery Jr, 38, of Tucker — provided the informant with names of officers who wanted to provide security, the affidavit said. Coss and Mannery also were among those arrested. The authorities used counterfeit cocaine in the sting.
The officers were engaged in repeated transactions that trafficked enough kilos of cocaine to be eligible for a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, Yates said. Williams, for instance, is accused of splitting $18,000, although his exact share wasn’t clear.
At least one man allegedly attempted to get in on the protection racket by falsely claiming to be a Clayton County police officer, federal authorities said. They charged Alexander B. Hill, 22, in the drug trafficking case for playing a role in what he thought were three cocaine deals involving multiple kilograms.
ATF Special Agent in Charge Scott Sweetow would not name the street gang involved, but he suggested the public corruption aspects would be far ranging.
“I can say this is probably not the last you will be hearing of this case,” he said.