State And Regional

2 Columbus police narcotics officers charged with distributing fentanyl, taking bribes

COLUMBUS — Two Columbus police narcotics officers were arrested Tuesday after they were charged by federal investigators with distributing kilograms of fentanyl, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Marco Merino, 44, of Columbus and John Kotchkoski, 33, of Marengo are accused of distributing nearly eight kilograms of fentanyl, a spokesperson for the DOJ said in a media release Wednesday. Merino is also accused of taking bribes to provide law enforcement protection to transport cocaine.

Federal investigators said Merino tried to recruit a confidential informant to distribute drugs with him, promising the informant he could intervene if other law enforcement agencies attempted to investigate, the spokesperson said.

Merino also tried to obtain citizenship to Mexico as part of a money laundering plan for the drug money, investigators said. He planned to buy properties in Mexico and run them as Airbnb properties, and had traveled to Mexico as recently as July.

“Specifically, it is alleged that, in March, April, May, August and September 2021, Merino accepted a total of $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,” the DOJ spokesperson said, citing court documents.

While the cocaine transports happened, the feds said Kotchkoski helped Merino by making any calls that were needed, including to other law enforcement officials, to protect the movement of what the two thought were real drugs.

In August, federal investigators said Merino sold nearly eight kilograms, approximately 18 pounds, worth of fentanyl that Kotchkoski provided for him. The sale of the drugs would have resulted in a profit between $60,000 and $80,000, the DOJ spokesperson said.

“Possessing with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl is a federal crime punishable by 10 years and up to life in prison. Federal Program Bribery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison,” the spokesperson said.

Kotchkoski, 33, was booked into the Delaware County Jail Tuesday following the FBI raids, according to our news partners at WBNS-TV in Columbus. Merino, 44, was booked into the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, located in Stryker, Ohio.

Both officers are expected to make appearances in federal court Wednesday, the station reported, citing unnamed sources.

“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,” Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said in a statement to WBNS-TV.

“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.”

“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,” Bryant said.

We’ll update this story as we learn more.