Columbus, OH — In case you've been completely in the dark for the last decade, you've likely noticed that the United States is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis. This crisis knows no demographic, no race, no gender, no age limit, and no occupation—it hits them all. Due to the government-imposed lockdowns coupled with the war on drugs leading to the uptake of fentanyl, 2020 marked the deadliest year in history for fatal drug overdoses.
Because the state enforces a drug war which outlaws far safer alternatives, fentanyl has grabbed a large portion of the illegal drug market and these synthetic opioids that are extremely dangerous are flooding the streets. This is leading to deadly overdoses and tempting those in law enforcement to cash in on the thriving black market.
Highlighting the utter failure of the state's war on drugs is the fact that two Columbus police officers were arrested last year for participating in a massive fentanyl ring in which they were distributing 8 kilograms of the drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a single kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people — meaning the amount they had could have killed 4 million.
According to U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, Marco R. Merino, 45, of Columbus, and John J. Kotchkoski, 33, of Marengo, Ohio, were allegedly involved in the distribution of approximately seven and a half kilograms of fentanyl. Merino also allegedly accepted bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine though investigators admitted that the cocaine was not real because it was a sting operation by the feds.
Merino pleaded guilty this week to multiple charges.
“Unlike the purported cocaine involved in transports, the fentanyl that Merino distributed was real,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “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.”
According to the complaint, Kotchkoski was the supplier and he gave Merino the fentanyl to distribute. Prosecutors allege that the fentanyl distribution ring unfolded in June and August of 2021 and Merino made between $60,000 and $80,000 for his role in the ring.
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, according to the Department of Justice.
Merino bragged about his police position and used it to distribute the fentanyl as well as transport over 27 kilograms of cocaine. That cocaine, however, as stated above, was fake and part of an FBI sting which eventually led to the officers' downfall.
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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.
Adding to the corrupt nature of the situation is the fact that the officers worked in the department's drug cartel unit meaning they were the ones going after the people just like them. They allegedly used their positions in the unit as a means of trafficking the fentanyl. They also knew that this batch of fentanyl was particularly deadly.
Merino discussed the fentanyl with the confidential informant in June 2021, according to court records, saying that "it had put a woman in the hospital."
After his arrest, "Merino told the FBI that Kotchkoski had told Merino if he ever spoke about any of the illegal acts between Merino and Kotchkoski that Kotchkoski would have Merino's wife and children killed," the court records said.
"This alleged conduct does not reflect the values of this division, or the excellent work being done by its employees," Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said. "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."
As the Department of Justice reports:
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.
Congress sets the maximum statutory sentence. Sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the Court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Charges remain pending against fellow former Columbus police officer John J. Kotchkoski, 33, of Marengo, Ohio.
As this incident, and others like it illustrate, when authorities who enforce the drug war, engage in the very practice they ostensibly fight, it is time we try something else.
Clearly, kidnapping and caging people for substances is making the problem worse. It is time to fix it.