- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

A federal grand jury has indicted 20 persons, including Henry County, Va., Sheriff Harold Frank Cassell and 12 of his current or former deputies, in connection with a major drug, weapon and money-laundering conspiracy in southern Virginia.

Fourteen persons were arrested yesterday as a result of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. The county law-enforcement officers are accused of stealing, selling and using cocaine, crack, marijuana, steroids and date-rape drugs and confiscating weapons being held as evidence.

Several also are accused of using a drug drop house for extramarital sex.

Police had been in contact with the rest of those indicted except for one, U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee said.

At a bail hearing yesterday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael F. Urbanski released Sheriff Cassell on $25,000 bail and ordered that he have no contact with the other defendants.

At the prosecution’s request, Judge Urbanski also told Sheriff Cassell, 68, not to discuss the case with any county employee because an investigation of corruption in Henry County’s government is ongoing.

Former county administrator Sid Clower went to prison for embezzling more than $818,000 from 1993 to 2002 as the county sank into economic despair. He used the money for gifts, trips and to support an out-of-wedlock child.

State police and officers from Martinsville, Va., are helping run the Henry County department in the meantime.

According to a 48-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Va., at least four law-enforcement officers stole firearms, money, electronic equipment, illegal drugs and other items held by the department as evidence and that at least 10 others sought to impede and obstruct a federal investigation into the suspected conspiracy.

Hundreds of pounds of cocaine, crack and marijuana are thought to have been seized and later sold.

Sheriff Cassell was quoted by investigators as saying that the only way to acquire wealth is to be “a little crooked and not get caught.”

He owns large tracts of land and a trucking company and has reported more than $20,000 in dividends yearly, the government said.

“As a public servant, I am deeply disturbed by the actions of these individuals, especially the law-enforcement officers arrested today,” said Shawn A. Johnson, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Washington division. “Those who betray the public trust insult the integrity and honor of all police officers who risk their lives upholding the law.”

A U.S. Postal Service employee and a county probation officer were among those charged in the case.

The indictment, which was made public yesterday, states that the conspiracy began in 1998 when sworn officers, employees and associates of the sheriff’s office took part in a “continuous scheme” to distribute the date-rape drug Ketamine, cocaine, crack and marijuana.

The indictment states that members of the conspiracy used their connections with the sheriff’s office to obtain drugs and avoid arrest. It also states that they took seized firearms for their own use.

Sheriff Cassell, according to the indictment, was advised by authorities of drug deals going on in his department but chose not to take any action. It states that he covered up several illegal activities by making false statements to federal investigators and by aiding and abetting the money-laundering aspect of the operation.

Sheriff Cassell was with the state police before being elected sheriff in 1992. He earned a salary of about $90,000, according to state figures The county of about 58,000 residents is best known for the Martinsville Speedway, where NASCAR races are run twice a year.

The sheriff has 122 employees, including 96 sworn officers.

The county supervisors last night asked Sheriff Cassell to resign, saying they thought his ability to manage his department had been “irreparably damaged.”

John Lichtenstein, Sheriff Cassell’s attorney, said his client would assess the issues and “make a decision that he believes reflects the best interests of the people.”

Mr. Brownlee said a major break in the investigation came as a result of Operation Cyber Chase. In March 2005, DEA agents in the Philadelphia field office notified agents in Roanoke that they made a controlled delivery of two kilograms of Ketamine — a sedative — to a residence in Martinsville, Va.

Agents arrested William Reed, who rented the residence from a sergeant with the county sheriff’s office. Mr. Reed was charged with possession with intent to distribute Ketamine. Facing criminal charges and a lengthy sentence, Mr. Reed agreed to cooperate in the DEA probe, Mr. Brownlee said. The sergeant has been indicted in the case.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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