- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

ROANOKE — Two former officers with a rural sheriff’s department pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges that they took part in a scheme involving their boss and 10 other current and former officers to sell tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of drugs seized from criminals.

James Alden Vaught, a former sergeant in the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, and former Deputy David Allan King entered the pleas in separate hearings before U.S. District Judge James Turk.

They are among 20 persons indicted in October in the investigation of corruption and racketeering conspiracy.

The sheriff, H. Franklin Cassell, stepped down after being charged with looking the other way as officers sold drugs seized in criminal investigations and stole guns and other evidence for personal use and resale.

King pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and drug conspiracy, and Vaught’s plea was to racketeering conspiracy.

King faces up to 40 years in prison and Vaught 20 years, but the sentences could be reduced if they testify against co-defendants.

The men remain free on bail.

Vaught, who agreed to cooperate with investigators, recorded about 90 conversations with 25 persons, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bondurant said. He was paid by the ring for use of a house he owned for drug distribution.

Vaught, 33, pleaded guilty because he has “a contrite heart,” said his attorney, Bruce Welch. He receives government protection for his court appearances, Mr. Bondurant said.

King, 49, was once in charge of the vice unit and had been a school-resource officer with the department.

Mr. Bondurant said King falsified destruction orders for drugs seized by the department, then King, Vaught and other officers resold the drugs.

“It is estimated that this portion of the conspiracy involved multiple kilograms of cocaine, ounces of cocaine base … and hundreds of pounds of marijuana,” the indictment states.

Mr. Cassell, 68, has pleaded not guilty to charges of impeding federal agents’ investigation and money laundering.

After his indictment, he retired as the top law-enforcement officer in the economically distressed county along the North Carolina border.

Charges against the other defendants include racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, weapons counts, obstruction of justice and perjury.

One other former deputy and one of the seven civilians charged have pleaded guilty.

Former Deputy Bradley Scott Martin pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and drug conspiracy, and William Randall Reed’s plea was to racketeering conspiracy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me” if others plead guilty in the case, Mr. Bondurant said.

No other plea hearings or trial dates have been scheduled.

One sergeant named in the original indictment faces new charges that include accepting payoffs from a drug dealer to help him keep tabs on the authorities.

Robert Keith Adams, 42, was indicted last week on charges of tampering with a witness, obstructing justice, being an accessory to a crime and making false statements to investigators.

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