Two Ohio police officers arrested in fentanyl distribution case

Two police officers working in the Columbus Division of Police’s drug cartel unit were arrested in connection to a scheme to distribute over seven kilograms of fentanyl, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio announced on Wednesday.

The two officers, identified by prosecutors as Marco Merino and John Kotchkoski, were allegedly involved in distributing the fentanyl and prosecutors also alleged that Merino assisted in the distribution of cocaine by taking bribes to protect its transit.

Kotchkoski, 33, allegedly provided Merino, 44, the kilograms of fentanyl, which Merino then distributed in June and August. Prosecutors believe that the fentanyl sales would have been between $60,000 and $80,000. It is a federal crime to possess and intend to sell at least 400 grams of the drug.

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Additionally, Merino is accused of trying to enlist help to assist him in trafficking drugs and allegedly offered protection for an individual to help him in his drug distribution scheme, including offering to step in in the event that law enforcement officials decided to investigate that person, according to an affidavit filed, prosecutors noted.

Merino allegedly took altogether $44,000 in cash during several months in 2021 in return for protecting at least 27 kilograms of cocaine to be safely transported, though the officer did not know that there was actually no cocaine in his possession and the scheme had been punctured by federal officials. 

During the scheme, Kotchkoski allegedly also offered his help to protect the distribution of the cocaine, including making calls on behalf of Merino, prosecutors said.

Merino is accused of trying to use the drug trafficking scheme as a way to gain citizenship in Mexico, according to court documents, prosecutors noted.

Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant issued a statement on Wednesday saying that “the 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,” she continued. “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.”

Bryant explained that actions of the two officers did not represent the police division as a whole.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (D) tweeted on Wednesday following the announcement of the criminal charges that it represented “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,” Ginther tweeted.

“We will hold these officers accountable, check the abuse of power and remain steadfast in our work to reform policing in Columbus.”