Two Columbus Police Officers Arrested By FBI, Face Federal Charges
Updated September 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM ET
Two Columbus Police Officers have been arrested by the FBI and charged with federal drug-related crimes.
Columbus Police Officer John Kotchkoski, 33, is from Marengo, Ohio. CPD Officer Marco Merino, 44, is from Columbus. Both worked in the cartel unit of the police division’s Narcotics Bureau.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Vipal J. Patel said in a press release Wednesday that federal agents arrested both officers. Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said in a statement that they have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of their criminal cases.
Merino is being charged with distributing about seven and a half kilograms of fentanyl that Kotchkoski provided to him this past summer. The U.S. attorney says it is alleged that Merino would make between $60,000 and $80,000 dollars for that sale. Possessing with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl is a federal crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
Merino also allegedly accepted bribes totaling $44,000 to protect the transportation of 27 kilograms, or almost 60 pounds, of cocaine in five of the past seven months. If convicted, that would amount to Federal Program Bribery, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
What Merino didn’t know was that all of the cocaine transactions were controlled by federal law enforcement, Patel said, and there was never any actual cocaine. Cell phone data places Kotchkoski near Merino during these transports, and Merino allegedly attempted to recruit a confidential informant to traffic drugs with him.
Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement that he is very upset and that this comes at a time when he and Chief Bryant have been trying to improve relations between law enforcement and the community.
“I am flat out angry,” the mayor wrote in an email. “The allegations are disturbing and represent a complete breach of trust. 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.”
Chief Bryant also issued a statement. She said that the allegations are “beyond disturbing,” and if proven, such actions would violate the oath her officers take, the standards she expects they hold themselves to, and the trust of the public.
“This alleged conduct does not reflect the values of this division, or the excellent work being done by its employees,” Bryant wrote. “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.”
Court documents state that Merino intended to become a citizen of Mexico, where he allegedly planned to run AirBnb properties and launder drug proceeds. He traveled to Mexico in July.
As of Wednesday, The Delaware County Jail listed Kotchkoski as an inmate and the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio was holding Merino. Both facilities often house people facing federal charges.
The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Patel’s office declined to comment further at this time.
The initial hearing on Wednesday for Kotchkoski was very brief. The next step for each of the defendants is a detention hearing. Merino's is Thursday and Kotchkoski’s will take place this Friday. A spokesperson for Patel said in an email that their office is seeking to detain the defendants pending trial. The defense typically argues reasons for releasing the defendant on bond.
Two Columbus police officers were behind bars Wednesday morning after being arrested by the FBI.
Officers John Kotchkowski, 33, and Marco Merino, 44 both work in the cartel unit of the division's Narcotics Bureau.
Kotchowski was listed as an inmate Wednesday at the Delaware County Jail, which often houses people facing federal charges. Merino was being held at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, which also houses federal inmates.
Booking information does not list charges for either officer, but the Columbus Dispatch quotes two sources as saying the men are suspected of dealing drugs.
Charges against both officers are expected to be unsealed Wednesday.
This is a developing story that will be updated.