Two police officers in Columbus, Ohio, have been arrested by the FBI and charged with distributing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often mixed with heroin and cocaine to increase their euphoric effects and has contributed to the opioid crisis.
Police officers, John J. Kotchkoski, 33, and Marco Merino, 44, were arrested on Sept. 29. Both are in the department’s narcotics division, Magic 95.5 radio station reported.
Fentanyl is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Fentanyl is often mixed with illegal drugs with or without the user’s knowledge. Rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, have increased more than 16 percent from 2018 to 2019. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013, the CDC reports.
Celebrities who overdosed on fentanyl include Williams, who died Sept. 6 of intoxication by a mixture of heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Comedian Fuquan Johnson, 43, was one of three people who ODd from fentanyl-laced cocaine at a Los Angeles party on Sept. 3, NewsOne reported. Hip-hop icon Shock G, a founding member of the hip-hop collective Digital Underground, was found dead in a Florida hotel room on April 22, of an “accidental overdose” from the effects of fentanyl, ethanol, and methamphetamine.
The Ohio cops were allegedly involved in the distribution of more than seven kilograms of fentanyl, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio. Merino is also accused of accepting bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine.
Merino also is believed to have attempted to gain Mexican citizenship to help launder drug sale proceeds, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
Court documents allege Merino accepted about $44,000 in cash for protecting shipments of at least 27 kilograms of cocaine.
Kotchkoski is accused of providing Merino with 7.5 kilograms of fentanyl in June and August for distribution, which would have netted Merino between $60,000 and $80,000, according to court records.
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If convicted, Merino faces up to life in prison for the distribution of more than 400 grams of fentanyl, and a maximum 10-year sentence for bribery. Kotchkoski faces a possible life sentence if convicted of distributing fentanyl, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“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,” Columbus police chief Elaine Bryant said in a statement.