COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Two Columbus police officers were arrested by the FBI and charged with crimes connected to the distribution of fentanyl.
The officers, identified as John J. Kotchkoski, 33, and Marco Merino, 44, were arrested Tuesday on the charges. Both are officers in the department’s narcotics division.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio, Merino and Kotchkoski were allegedly involved in the distribution of approximately seven and a half kilograms of fentanyl. Merino is also accused of accepting bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine.
Court documents state Merino allegedly tried to recruit a confidential informant to traffic drugs with him, and allegedly promised law enforcement protection to the individual and said he could intervene if other law enforcement agencies attempted to investigate the confidential informant.
A release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office reads about the allegations against the officers:
Court documents detail that Merino intended to gain citizenship in Mexico as part of a plan to launder their drug proceeds. Merino allegedly planned to buy properties in Mexico to run as Airbnb properties and traveled to Mexico in July.
Specifically, it is alleged that, in March, April, May, August and September 2021, Merino accepted a total of $44,000 in cash in exchange for protecting the safe transport of at least 27 kilograms of cocaine. Unbeknownst to Merino, there was no actual cocaine and each of the transactions was controlled by federal law enforcement.
During the transports of the purported cocaine, it is alleged Kotchkoski made himself available by radio to make any calls that Merino might need, including to other law enforcement officials, to protect the safe transportation of the cocaine. According to an affidavit, cell phone data places Kotchkoski near Merino during the transports.
In June and August 2021, Merino allegedly distributed approximately seven and a half kilograms of fentanyl that Kotchkoski provided to him. It is alleged that Merino would make between $60,000 and $80,000 for the sale of the fentanyl.
Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant released the following statement following the arrests:
These allegations are beyond disturbing. If proven, such actions would violate the oath our officers take, the standards we must hold ourselves to, and the trust of the public.
These officers have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of their criminal cases. We have, and will continue to, work cooperatively with federal authorities.
Because this is an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment further on these cases.
This alleged conduct does not reflect the values of this division, or the excellent work being done by its employees.
I will say it again: when my officers do what’s right, I will always have their back. When they don’t, they will be held accountable.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther released the following statement in regards to the arrests and charges:
I am flat out angry. The allegations are disturbing and represent a complete breach of trust. It undermines our efforts to rebuild community-police relations at a time when we need to come together to make our neighborhoods safer. The selfish actions of these officers jeopardized the safety of their fellow officers and the community. We will hold these officers accountable, check the abuse of power and remain steadfast in our work to reform policing in Columbus.
The Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9 also released a statement saying they were aware of the charges against Merino and Kotchkoski.
“If these allegations are true these individuals have no place in the Fraternal Order of Police or the Columbus Division of Police,” the release reads. “The incredible officers that make up Lodge 9 will not tolerate this type of conduct and we want justice to be served.”
Possessing with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl is a federal crime punishable by 10 years and up to life in prison. Federal Program Bribery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Merino is scheduled for a detention hearing Thursday. Kotchkoski is scheduled for an initial appearance Wednesday.