Eleven Detroit-area police officers were arraigned Wednesday on charges of accepting money to guard several large shipments of cocaine and cash for undercover FBI agents who were posing as drug dealers.
Six civilians also were arrested Tuesday in the sting operation, among them Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s niece, Cathy Volsan Curry, and her father, Willie Volsan. Federal agents said Young was not linked to the investigation.
Over the course of the eight-month investigation, the paid-off police officers willingly cooperated with what they thought were drug dealers to ensure the safe delivery of cocaine from Miami to Detroit, federal investigators said.
Sometimes while on duty and in uniform, often using marked police cars, the officers sealed off sections of Detroit City Airport, helped unload what they believed to be drug shipments and chaperoned the drugs through Detroit and into the suburbs, the FBI said.
Most of the officers were paid $2,000 to $3,000 a flight for services, and Sgt. James Harris, a key figure in the investigation, received more than $50,000 for his role in organizing the police protection squad, federal officials said.
Undercover FBI agents made several flights from Florida to Detroit carrying drugs or large sums of money that they said they wanted laundered.
U.S. Atty. Stephen J. Markman said the sting was touched off by information on possible police corruption gathered in a separate investigation.
The officers were released on bail Wednesday. Markman said firearms, narcotics and possibly public corruption charges were being brought against the suspects. The charges carry a maximum penalty of life on prison, he said.
Several of the officers’ attorneys said Wednesday their clients had been trapped into committing a crime.
“The government committed the crime, not my client,” said Sheldon Halpern, attorney for Sgt. Harris. “No matter how many times they say it wasn’t entrapment, that’s what it was, and that will be the basis for our defense.”
Young said the arrests “obviously (are) a very painful thing,” but he refused to comment further. Detroit Police Chief Stanley Knox also refused to comment.
The arrest of the 11 officers is the latest in a series of criminal allegations against Detroit police over the last year.
In February, then-Chief of Police William L. Hart was indicted on federal charges of stealing more than $2.4 million from a covert operations fund.
Hart’s former colleague, Kenneth A. Weiner, once a civilian deputy police chief, also was charged in connection with the theft from the fund. Both men are awaiting trial.
Maggie DeSantis, director of the Warren/Connor Development Coalition, a group that has organized efforts to rid Detroit’s desolate neighborhoods of drugs, said that the most recent arrests confirmed the suspicions of many community members.
“It’s not surprising to hear this because we knew there must be some reason that, with all the police out there, they haven’t been able to crack the crack problem,” DeSantis said.
But DeSantis said it was disheartening that Detroit was again caught in an unfavorable light.
“I’m not trying to excuse us,” she said, “but it hurts. It gives the city a mass inferiority complex.”
The investigation was the seventh major federal probe targeting Detroit police or city officials since 1976. Young has asserted that the city is the victim of attempts by the FBI and other federal officials to smear black officials.
But Markman said it is because of Detroit’s problems that investigations like the one that his office just completed are so important.
“In a city like Detroit, a city inundated by violent crime and economic problems that have forced it to cut its law enforcement budget, the city just can’t afford to carry any bad cops,” Markman said.