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Indictment: Crooked deputies sold guns, drugs to public

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From Kevin Bohn

CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Virginia sheriff covered up a scheme in which a dozen of his deputies sold seized guns and drugs to the public, a federal indictment alleges.


The indictment names Henry County Sheriff Harold Franklin Cassell, known locally as "Frank," and 19 others.

All but two of those indicted were taken into custody on Thursday morning, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.



The charges include racketeering conspiracy, weapons offenses, narcotics distribution, obstruction of justice and perjury.



"It is disgraceful corruption," said U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee. (Watch how the good guys allegedly became bad guys -- 2:13 icon_video.gif)



"These were drugs and guns that were seized as part of their law enforcement duties that were then stolen from the property room and put back out on the streets."



Brownlee added, "You have law enforcement [officers] risking their lives to take these guns off the streets and then a very few members of law enforcement putting them right back out there."



He acknowledged that the arrests would affect the department's ability to carry on day-to-day operations. Virginia state police are being sent to ensure safety, Brownlee said.

Among the schemes alleged in the indictment:



The theft of drugs and firearms in the custody of the sheriff's department

Distribution of cocaine, marijuana and a date rape drug

Money laundering

Obstruction of justice



The DEA said 13 of those charged are either current or former sheriff's office employees in Henry County, part of southern Virginia's Piedmont region.



A U.S. Postal Service employee, a probation officer and five civilians also were charged in the 48-count indictment. (Read the indictmenticon.offsite.gif)



According to the indictment, William R. Reed, one of the civilians indicted, began cooperating with authorities after he was arrested last year on narcotics charges.



The indictment says Reed told federal agents he acted as a middleman in the distribution ring, paying a sheriff's sergeant to use a house as a drug drop, according to the indictment.



Cassell, charged with impeding the investigation and money laundering, was released on $25,000 bail, The Associated Press reported.



"He's served with great dedication," defense attorney John Lichtenstein told the wire service after Cassell's bail hearing. "Now we get an opportunity to answer the accusations."



Officials allege Cassell was advised by authorities of drug transactions going on in his department but took no action. Authorities also allege the sheriff helped launder drug money and covered up several illegal activities by lying to federal investigators.



Cassell was elected sheriff in 1992. The department employs 122 people, 96 of them as sworn law enforcement officers.



He was quoted by investigators as saying the only way to acquire wealth is to be "a little crooked and not get caught," the AP reported.



Cassell owns large tracts of land and a trucking company and has reported more than $20,000 in dividends yearly, the AP quoted authorities as saying.



"Today's indictment serves as a clear reminder that no one -- not even a senior member of law enforcement -- is above the law," Brownlee said.



Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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