Federal authorities arrested 13 current or former law enforcement officers in Eastern North Carolina on Thursday morning, on suspicion that they were conspiring to use their badge and firearm to protect cocaine and heroin shipments to Maryland and South Carolina.
After a two-year undercover investigation, agents swept the Halifax Northampton Regional Airport and a warehouse in Rocky Mount, and arrested 15 people who were waiting for drug shipments, said U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker.
The suspects, charged in a 54-count indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, include seven and current former Northampton County Sheriff’s deputies, three North Carolina Department of Public Safety corrections officers, one Windsor County City Police officer and one Northampton County emergency dispatcher. They are all charged with conspiring to distribute controlled substances and conspiring to use and carry firearms in relation to drug trafficking offenses.
One suspect, former Northampton County Deputy Wardie Vincent, Jr., is the son of former Northampton County Sheriff Wardie Vincent, who retired two years ago, WRAL-TV reported.
"When officers violate the trust that the public has instilled in them, it tears at the very core of what holds a community together," Walker said.
The investigation, named Operation Rockfish, after a popular fish in the Northampton County's Roanoke River, began when deputies in the nearby Halifax County Sheriff’s Office received several tips and sent them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Sheriff Wes Tripp.
“We threw our nets out to catch corrupt cops,” Tripp said.
Special Agent John Strong, North Carolina supervisor for the FBI, said he was in disbelief about the suspected crimes. Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith, who was elected last year, told the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald that he did not know about the investigation.
“All of us are in shock,” he said.
The last major investigation into law enforcement corruption was first made public in 2006 when state authorities indicted deputies at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation resulted in 22 law enforcement officers, including Sheriff Glenn Maynor, being charged with crimes including pirating satellite television signals, kidnapping, perjury, drug trafficking, armed robbery and money laundering.