Columbus, Ohio – Two Columbus police officers were arrested Tuesday and charged with crimes related to distributing fentanyl, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.
Officers Marco Merino and John Kotchkoski were allegedly involved in the distribution of seven-and-a-half kilograms of fentanyl, federal prosecutors said. Merino also allegedly accepted bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine. Both men were members of the Police Drug Cartel unit.
Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said Merino and Kotchkoski have been relieved of duty.
Officers fired, facing charges
“These allegations are beyond disturbing. If proven, such actions would violate the oath our officers take, the standards we must hold ourselves to, and the trust of the public,” Chief Bryant said.
“These officers have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of their criminal cases. We have, and will continue to, work cooperatively with federal authorities. Because this is an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment further on these cases. This alleged conduct does not reflect the values of this division, or the excellent work being done by its employees. 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.”
According to an affidavit, Merino allegedly tried to recruit a confidential informant to traffic drugs with him, and promised law enforcement protection to the individual, and said he could intervene if other law enforcement agencies attempted to investigate the confidential informant.
Feds bust alleged crooked cops
Court documents said Merino tried to gain citizenship in Mexico as part of a plan to launder their drug proceeds. He also planned to buy properties in Mexico to run as Airbnb properties and traveled to Mexico in July.
Specifically, it is alleged that, in March, April, May, August, and September 2021, Merino accepted $44,000 in cash in exchange for protecting the safe transport of at least 27 kilograms of cocaine, unbeknownst to Merino, there was no actual cocaine and each of the transactions was controlled by federal law enforcement.
During the transport of the purported cocaine, it is alleged Kotchkoski made himself available by radio to make any calls that Merino might need, including to other law enforcement officials, to protect the safe transportation of the cocaine. According to an affidavit, cell phone data places Kotchkoski near Merino during the transports.
In June and August 2021, Merino allegedly distributed approximately seven-and-a-half kilograms of fentanyl that Kotchkoski provided to him. It is alleged that Merino would make between $60,000 and $80,000 for the sale of the fentanyl.
“I am flat out angry. The allegations are disturbing and represent a complete breach of trust,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther. “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.”