Prosecutors say one of the Cherryville officers accused of protecting illegal shipments of stolen goods in Operation Blue Crush "admitted" he misused his office.
Casey Crawford entered a not guilty plea Monday morning. His attorney requested bond.
Attorney Rick Winiker says "Mr. Crawford cooperated from day one in this investigation. We're continuing to cooperate with the United States and we're looking forward to getting a resolution on this matter".
Prosecutors wanted him held behind bars. They say he is the lead defendant in the indictment that names him and two others. Federal agents say Crawford - a Cherryville Police Officer - recruited two others to join the scheme. They say he specifically talked about "armed protection" and brought an assault rifle with him.
Several of Crawford's relatives and friends were in court to show support.
"I've known Casey for over 13 years, he's completely out of character, I don't think all the details have been revealed yet," said Chris Beam, a friend of Casey Crawford.
Magistrate Judge David Cayer granted Crawford $50,000 unsecured bond, which his parents had to co-sign. If he posts bond, Crawford has to adher to conditions of home detention with electronic monitoring. He has to stay with a relative who lives outside of Cherryville. Magistrate Judge Cayer told Crawford he cannot make contact with the co-defendants.
Friday morning, other officers charged in a federal investigation had their arraignment and detention hearings.
WBTV was there as Frank Dellinger, Mark Ray Hoyle, David Mauney, John Hendricks, and Wesley Golden all entered not guilty pleas to their charges.
Hoyle and Golden both consented to detention, and are being held without bond under their own consent.
Mauney and Hendricks were both placed under a $50,000 unsecured bond. Mauney was also ordered home detention monitoring once he is released.
The magistrate judge refused to grant bond for Dellinger, and called the forecast of the government's case against him "shocking," adding, "bond would not be appropriate." Dellinger's attorney says the allegations have been difficult on Dellinger's family.
"Obviously he's emotional, it's a difficult situation, you're taken away from your family. He's never been apart from his wife in 16 years for more than 2 days and that separation and the allegation themselves are obviously going to be disturbing," said Roderick Wright, Dellinger's attorney.
An FBI agent testified that the undercover operation was videotaped. He said seven times during the operation, Dellinger provided protection for what he thought was stolen goods. He allegedly worked to make sure legitimate police didn't intercept.
Dellinger's attorney says these are just allegations.
"We will go through discovery. Each and every page, each and every recording - whatever exists - and then we will go forward from there", says Wright.
Agents say Dellinger asked to 'front' or buy a kilo of cocaine, and launder money. Investigators say he offered drive the trucks.
Federal investigators say Dellinger is facing an ongoing investigation. According to the FBI agent who testified, Dellinger allegedly stole property from a Cherryville home. His colleagues at the Police Department told him to give it back.
In another case, Dellinger allegedly stole cash from an insurance company's office. The owner accused Dellinger. The agent testified Dellinger 'threatened to plant dope if the man didn't stop complaining".
Investigators say Dellinger told undercover agents he was providing protection for an illegal gambling operation that was allegedly being run by co-defendant, Mark Hoyle.
Dellinger's attorney tried to persuade the Magistrate Judge to set bond for his client. Attorney Wright says Dellinger is not a danger to the community or a flight risk. The judge disagreed and ordered him held without bond.
The court appearances came just one day after the Gaston County District Attorney announced possibility of pending court cases involving the arrested officers could be dismissed.
So far, cases involving at least 83 people may have been compromised.
"I will not prosecute any cases," Gaston Co. District Attorney R. Locke Bell said, "Where the officer's testimony is necessary."
The DA says he has to protect the integrity of the court and can't let alleged tainted officers serve as witnesses. As a result some suspects will be let go.
"You are going to have everything from speeding to DWI," Locke said. "You'll probably have some drug cases. You may have some where they investigated some breaking and entering."
Locke said the only way a case will proceed, if he doesn't need the officers' testimony to convict.
Cherryville's police chief and a police captain were suspended Thursday.
Two federal indictments unsealed in U.S. District Court in Charlotte Thursday charged a reserve deputy sheriff with the Gaston County Sheriff's Office and police officers with the Cherryville Police Department with multiple counts related to the misuse of their official position to provide protection for the transportation of goods they believed to be stolen, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Two non-law enforcement defendants were also charged for their role in the conspiracy.
Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division and Greg McLeod, Director of the State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI) joined U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making Thursday's announcement.
Fire chief and interim city manager Jeff Cash said he made the decision to suspend police chief Woody Burgess and police captain Mike Allred..
Dillenger, Golden, and Hoyle are each charged with one count of conspiracy to transport and/or receive stolen property, four counts of transportation of stolen property, one count of conspiracy to extort under color of official right, one count of money laundering conspiracy, four counts of money laundering and aiding and abetting, and three counts of possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Dellinger faces one additional count of extortion under color of official right.
In a separate criminal indictment, Crawford, and Mauney are each charged with one count of conspiracy to transport and/or receive stolen property and one count of conspiracy to extort under color of official right. Crawford is also charged with one count of program fraud bribery in connection with his role in the conspiracy.
According to allegations contained in the first indictment, beginning in August 2012, Dellinger, Golden and Hoyle conspired with undercover law enforcement agents to provide "protection" for tractor trailers transporting through Gaston County what the defendants believed to be stolen merchandise such as televisions, generators and motor vehicles, with a total retail value in excess of $158,000. The defendants also conspired to provide "protection" for the transportation of cash in excess of $400,000, which they believed to be proceeds from the sale of stolen goods.
The second indictment alleges that beginning in May 2012, Crawford, Mauney and Hendricks conspired with undercover law enforcement agents to provide "protection" for truckloads of stolen merchandise which purportedly included, among other things, televisions, generators and chain saws, allegedly worth over $300,000, as well as cash totaling over $300,000 in proceeds from the sale of stolen merchandise.
According to allegations contained in the two indictments, on multiple occasions, Dellinger, Golden, Crawford and Mauney used their credentials and legal authority to assist with the transfer or transport of stolen goods and/or cash proceeds from the sale of stolen goods, in exchange for monetary bribes. Hendricks's role in the scheme was to assist Crawford and Mauney by conducting counter-surveillance. Hoyle assisted the conspiracy by representing himself as a law enforcement officer.
Court documents say back in 2011 federal agents became aware that Dellinger was involved in questionable activities. Agents went undercover posing as people selling stolen goods. Dellinger allegedly recruited others to join his scheme to protect stolen goods.
According to court documents, during the undercover operation, some of the officers vouched for each other by saying they used their law enforcement positions to protect illegal activities in and around Gaston County.
Several local residents gathered across the street as federal agents worked inside the police station, and in the police parking lot behind the building. Some residents say they weren't surprised. They say they've long been suspicions and whispers of corruption at Cherryville Police.
The Mayor of Cherryville, Bob Austell, told WBTV Wednesday "public safety remains a top priority and patrol work will go forward". Mayor Austell says the police department will cover the city for the next two days. He said "there's a long term plan in place" - but wouldn't elaborate.
Thursday, the Mayor told WBTV Gaston County Police will help patrol while Cherryville is down three officers.
The Sheriff of Gaston County told WBTV he was shocked to hear the news about Wesley Golden. Sheriff Alan Cloninger says Golden joined the Sheriff's department in 1994 as a detention officer and worked his way up to Captain. Cloninger says Golden retired in February 2012 to go into private business. Sheriff Cloninger says Golden is an inactive reserve deputy holding onto his police certification for a year.
Neighbors on Joyce Drive where Golden lives say he's a good guy. They say they saw federal agents at his house Wednesday. Friends who didn't want to go on camera say they're shocked that he was arrested.
The conspiracy to transport and/or receive stolen property charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The transportation of stolen property charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The conspiracy to extort under color of official right charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The extortion under color of official right charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The money laundering conspiracy charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The money laundering and aiding and abetting charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison, and the program fraud bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The FBI and SBI are handling the investigation. Agents and the city are not commenting on the investigation.
The city has undergone several personnel changes in recent months. City Manager David Hodgkins was let go over the summer. In December, the town's clerk and finance director abruptly left their positions after an audit showed misuse of city credit cards.