COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Former Columbus police officer Marco R. Merino pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to traffic more than 8 kilograms of fentanyl — enough to kill more than one million people.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that Merino, 45, of Columbus, also pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting $45,000 worth of bribes in exchange for protecting the transport of at least 47 kilograms of cocaine from March to September 2021.
However, unknown to Merino at the time, no actual cocaine existed in the transport deal, as federal agents orchestrated each transaction.
Merino, who conspired with fellow former narcotics officer John J. Kotchkoski, 33, of Marengo, Ohio, from June to September, distributed fentanyl at least three times in exchange for $32,500 for about one kilogram of fentanyl, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
“Unlike the purported cocaine involved in transports, the fentanyl that Merino distributed was real,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker said. “Merino swore an oath to serve and protect our community as a law enforcement officer, and instead he conspired to traffic enough fentanyl to kill well over one million people.”
Possession of 400 grams or more of fentanyl with an intent to distribute is punishable by 10 years and up to life in prison, and Federal Program Bribery is punishable by up to 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Less than one month after federal agents arrested Merino in September, he resigned from his post at the Columbus Division of Police.
Both Merino and Kotchkoski faced disciplinary action during their time at the Columbus Division of Police, according to personnel and court files, including an alleged assault at the 2015 Dublin Irish Festival by Kotchkoski. Records indicate that Merino was found to be physically, mentally or emotionally unable to perform his work because of stress.
Charges against Kotchkoski remain pending, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.