- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

1:14 p.m.

ROANOKE — Henry County Sheriff H. Franklin Cassell and 12 of his uniformed employees have been indicted in a federal investigation into drug and gun dealing.

A U.S. Postal Service employee, a probation officer and five residents also were charged in the 34-count indictment, which was issued Tuesday and unsealed today.

Charges include a racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, obstruction of justice and perjury plus firearms charges.

The indictment states that drugs and guns seized by the sheriff’s office were sold to residents for distribution. The conspiracy began in 1998, the indictment reads.

“It is disgraceful corruption,” John Brownlee, U.S. attorney for western Virginia, said at a press conference.

Sheriff Cassell was charged with money laundering and impeding the investigation by the FBI and federal drug enforcement agents. He was in custody and faced an afternoon bond hearing today.

Fourteen others also were in custody, and police had been in contact with the rest of those indicted except for one defendant who was at large, Mr. Brownlee said.

The indictment states that one of the residents, William R. Reed, told investigators that a house owned by one of the sheriff’s officers was used for drug distribution. Mr. Reed cooperated in the investigation following his arrest last year on charges of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute.

Mr. Reed said he was a middleman in the distribution ring and paid James A. Vaught, a sergeant with the sheriff’s office, to use the house he owned for drug distribution.

According to the indictment, drugs involved in the conspiracy were narcotics, cocaine, steroids and marijuana.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.

A county sheriff’s dispatcher referred questions to the state police office in Salem. An officer who answered the phone there referred calls to the U.S. attorney.

Sheriff Cassell has been sheriff since 1992 in the rural county of about 58,000 residents along the North Carolina line. The area is a former textile and furniture region that has fallen on hard times with the closing of many factories.

The sheriff’s department has about 122 employees, including 96 law enforcement officers, according to the indictment. State police and officers from the neighboring city of Martinsville are helping the county, a state police official said.

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