ATLANTA (AP) — Ten current and former metro Atlanta law enforcement officers targeted in an undercover federal sting were arrested Tuesday, accused of accepting thousands of dollars to provide protection during drug deals, said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates.
The arrests came from an investigation of an Atlanta-area street gang in August 2011, Yates said. Those arrested include seven metro Atlanta police officers, two former DeKalb County jail officers and a contract officer with Federal Protective Services. Five other people have also been charged in the operation.
Federal agents learned from someone associated with the gang that police officers were accepting cash payments to provide protection for the gang's drug deals, authorities said. The payments were generally several thousand dollars per transaction, and some participated in several transactions, authorities said.
"Time after time, they took cash from people they should have been arresting," Yates said at a news conference.
The gang members hoped the officers' presence would prevent rival drug groups and legitimate officers from disrupting the deals.
Federal agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked with a cooperator to put out the word that gang members were seeking police protection for upcoming deals. Three people who were not officers but acted as go-betweens provided the cooperator the names of officers who wanted to provide protection.
Federal agents worked with the inside operators to arrange for officers to provide security for drug deals that were described in advance as involving the sale of multiple kilograms of cocaine. The transactions, which involved agents and cooperators exchanging money for sham cocaine, were audio and video recorded.
The police officers who are accused of participating usually appeared in uniform and displayed a weapon. Some of them showed up in their police vehicles to patrol parking lots where the deals took place. One went so far as to suggest a meeting in a high school parking lot where the transaction could be made using backpacks to make it less suspicious, Yates said.
The arrested officers are: one Atlanta Police Department officer, two DeKalb County Police Department officers, two Forest Park Police Department sergeants, one MARTA Police Department officer, one Stone Mountain Police Department officer, one contract officer for the Federal Protective Services, and two former DeKalb County Sheriff's Office jail officers who presented themselves as current deputies. The five other people arrested acted as go-betweens and recruiters.
"What is troubling to us is that it is widespread," Yates said. "It wasn't limited to one group in a single agency."
There is no indication the 10 officers and former officers all knew each other and it's not believed they were working together. But they may have known the same people who acted as go-betweens, Yates said.
Those arrested face a variety of charges having to do with attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm to further a drug trafficking crime, and conspiracy to commit extortion by accepting bribes.
The investigation is ongoing, and Yates declined to comment on the underlying gang investigation that led to the discovery of the corrupt activity.