- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Montgomery County, Md., police have arrested an Episcopal clergyman on methamphetamine distribution charges in one of the biggest seizures of the drug in the area, police said yesterday.

The Rev. Travers C. Koerner, 55, rector of St. Bartholomew's Protestant Episcopal Church in Laytonsville, was arrested with at least $10,000 in drugs at the rectory on Tuesday afternoon, police said.

Mr. Koerner, who was awaiting trial this month on a similar charge in Arlington County, is at the center of a cross-country investigation involving local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Koerner is charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A judge yesterday set his bond at $2 million "full cash," which means he must post the entire amount, rather than the usual 10 percent.

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington has placed Mr. Koerner on administrative leave, and may take further action based on the outcome of the two cases, a spokeswoman said.

Bishop Ronald H. Haines was aware of Mr. Koerner's arrest March 14 on a charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in Arlington County, said Daphne Gerig, the spokeswoman.

"The bishop had him under observation due to that. The bishop was keeping an eye on him, but not looking over his shoulder."

Bishop Haines is expected to meet with leaders of St. Bartholomew's tonight to decide what to do at this time, Miss Gerig said.

Miss Gerig said the diocese did not dismiss Mr. Koerner after his arrest in Arlington because he has not been convicted, he had no known prior criminal history and there were no complaints of problems from the congregation at St. Bartholomew's.

Methamphetamine or "speed" as it's known on the streets can be snorted or injected, though the most common method is smoking crystals of the drug. While it is typically a young person's drug, police said Mr. Koerner appeared to be a user: investigators found needles in his home and marks on his body.

"The needle marks he had were just unbelievable," said Sgt. Kirk J. Holub, supervisor of the Montgomery County police interdiction unit.

But the amount of narcotics seized also indicates he was in business, and not just a recreational user, officials said.

Based on the amount of drugs seized and its origins in Southern California, police believe Mr. Koerner is a member of some type of drug organization.

"He has access and connections," Sgt. Holub said.

Mr. Koerner, who arrived at St. Bartholomew's in January of last year, had already been under investigation by the U.S. Postal Service inspectors, who noticed he was shipping large amounts of cash across the country.

After alerts from postal inspectors and Arlington authorities, Montgomery County police kept an eye on Mr. Koerner.

When a tip came in on Tuesday saying a drug shipment was on its way to Mr. Koerner, the interdiction unit kicked into gear, setting up a sting operation.

"You can put two and two together for what's going on. The tip was the straw that broke the camel's back," Sgt. Holub said.

The undercover sting on Mr. Koerner yielded more drugs than police bargained for. After an officer posing as a delivery truck driver handed Mr. Koerner the package of methamphetamines, Mr. Koerner handed the officer his own package to deliver to California. That package contained a large amount of methamphetamine as well, Sgt. Holub said.

The investigation is not over.

Police seized so much methamphetamine that they still don't have an exact total, but there are at least 100 small bags of about an ounce each.

Postal inspectors and the Drug Enforcement Administration are chasing leads in California and elsewhere, while police in Arlington and Montgomery counties are teaming up to find local accomplices.

Montgomery County police are hoping to receive more tips about people who may have worked with Mr. Koerner, or noticed anything suspicious about him.

Police computer technicians still have to examine Mr. Koerner's laptop, which he was using when police arrested him. Finance investigators will audit the church's books to see if anyone has been raiding the church financial accounts.

Mr. Koerner had undergone the required criminal background check and prevention training for adult sexual misconduct and child abuse, just like other diocesan employees. "The diocese practices all due diligence in seeking a background check," Miss Gerig said. The diocese does not perform drug tests on its employees.

In recent years, meth labs have been found in both major cities and rural areas, but police do not think the drug has made significant inroads in Montgomery County. "Meth has moved mainstream," Sgt. Holub said.

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