Police Officers Arrested for Allegedly Distributing Nearly 8 Kilograms of Fentanyl

Two Ohio police officers have been arrested for their alleged participation in distributing nearly eight kilograms of fentanyl.

Marco Merino and John Kotchkoski, two cops in the Columbus Police Division's drug cartel unit, are accused of working together to transport and sell fentanyl as well as cocaine.

The two men face up to life sentences, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio. Possessing with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl is punishable by 10 years and up to life in prison.

Prosecutors said in court documents that the distribution occurred between June and August, as Merino allegedly distributed the approximately seven and a half kilograms of fentanyl that Kotchkoski gave to him.

The cops stood to profit up to $80,000 for the sale of the fentanyl, according to authorities.

Merino also allegedly attempted to recruit a confidential informant to help traffic the illegal drugs. Prosecutors said Merino offered the individual law enforcement protection and told them that he could protect them if other agencies tried to investigate.

Police Officers Arrested For Allegedly Distributing Fentanyl
Two Ohio police officers have been arrested for their alleged participation in distributing nearly eight kilograms of fentanyl. In this photo, the Columbus Division of Police Central Headquarters is seen on September 15, 2016. Paul Vernon/AFP via Getty Images

Court documents also allege Merino intended to gain Mexican citizenship as part of the plan to launder the profits from their drug sales. He traveled to Mexico in July, said prosecutors, and planned to buy properties in the country to run as Airbnb sites.

Merino purportedly accepted $44,000 in cash in exchange for protecting the transport of at least 27 kilograms of cocaine. But the officer didn't know there was no cocaine, and the transactions were controlled by federal agents.

Authorities said Kotchkoski was available by radio to make any calls Merino might need during transports of the fake cocaine. Cell phone data places Kotchkoski near Merino during the transports, according to court documents.

When asked for comment on the charges, Columbus Police Division pointed to a statement released by Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant.

Bryant said on Wednesday that the officers have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the criminal cases. The chief called the allegations "beyond disturbing."

"This alleged conduct does not reflect the values of this division, or the excellent work being done by its employees," Bryant said. "I will say it again: when my officers do what's right, I will always have their back. When they don't, they will be held accountable."

Mayor Andrew Ginther said he was "flat out angry" in response to the charges against the two police officers, and vowed to hold them accountable.

"The allegations are disturbing and represent a complete breach of trust," Ginther wrote on Twitter.

Ginther continued, "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."

Earlier this month, Ginther announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a review of the practices of the Columbus Division of Police. The review was requested after a series of fatal police shootings of Black people.