- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ROANOKE — A former officer charged in a federal investigation of corruption in a rural sheriff’s department pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of possessing stolen firearms.

Patrick Martin, who was a sergeant in the vice unit of the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. In exchange for his plea in U.S. District Court, prosecutors dropped two other weapons counts.

Martin was among 13 members of the department, including former Sheriff H. Franklin Cassell, and seven civilians indicted last fall in a scheme to sell drugs and other evidence seized from criminals.

Thirteen other defendants named in the indictment have entered guilty pleas to charges that include racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, weapons counts and obstruction of justice. Guilty pleas from two others are expected by next week, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Bondurant Jr.

A trial for Mr. Cassell, who is charged with impeding federal officers’ investigation and money laundering, is set for June.

Martin’s case had been set for a jury trial, but he decided yesterday morning to plead guilty, said his attorney, Art Strickland.

“His family was under so much stress,” Mr. Strickland said.

During the court hearing, Mr. Bondurant played a recording from portions of a three-hour interview that an FBI agent and a state police officer conducted with Martin in which he said he was not aware of any drugs or guns stolen from the sheriff’s department by officers.

“At the start of the interview, Martin flatly denied any knowledge of law-enforcement misconduct,” the prosecutor said.

He later acknowledged having “maybe three or four” guns at home, according to the recording.

Mr. Strickland said outside of court that the sheriff’s department had limited storage space and at one point officers were told that to take weapons and other evidence home for safekeeping.

“He never used any of the guns,” he said.

One shotgun that Martin returned to the department as the federal investigation of the department intensified last year was manufactured in 1904 and was considered a collector’s item worth $800 to $2,000, Mr. Bondurant said.

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