Four area law enforcement officers and two other men conspired with undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agents earlier this year in a large-scale operation to safeguard stolen property and proceeds from their sale, with the officers securing monetary bribes for their legal authority, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the state’s western district.
As a result, the city of Cherryville has also suspended its police chief and another high-ranking officer, neither of whom have been charged so far.
Two federal indictments were unsealed earlier Wednesday in the case.
One indictment from Tuesday charged Cherryville Police officer Frankie Dellinger, 40, Gaston County Sheriff’s reserve officer Wesley Clayton Golden, 39, and Cherryville resident Mark Ray Hoyle, 39.
Each man faces one count each of conspiracy to extort under color of official right, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to transport and/or receive stolen property, four counts each of transportation of stolen property, money laundering and aiding and abetting and three counts of possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal authorities also charged Dellinger with with an extra count of extortion.
The three men are accused of protecting undercover FBI agents, whom they thought were criminals, by allowing them to safely transport tractor trailers filled with stolen property through the area, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Hoyle, Dellinger and Golden also protected the transportation of more than $400,000, proceeds from the merchandises’ sale, the release said.
Goods included televisions and generators worth nearly $160,000.
A second indictment from Aug. 21 charged Cherryville patrol officers Casey Justin Crawford, 32, and David Paul Mauney, III, 23, along with Cherryville resident John Ashley Hendricks, 47, with one count each of conspiracy to transport and/or receive stolen property and conspiracy to extort under color of official right.
Crawford additionally faces one count of program fraud bribery.
Since May, Crawford, Mauney and Hendricks similarly worked with undercover FBI agents whom they believed to be criminals, to protect the transport of more than $300,000 in stolen merchandise along with more than $300,000 in proceeds from the items’ sale, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Hoyle’s role in the conspiracy included “representing himself as a law enforcement officer,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. On the other hand, Hendricks, Crawford and Mauney used counter-surveillance to ensure other officers wouldn’t discover the illegal operation, the release said.
FBI officials launched the investigation following allegations last year that Dellinger had been involved in illegal activity, an indictment said.
The undercover FBI agents requested assistance from law enforcement officers who would be willing to provide protection for stolen items in exchange for cash bribes.
Dellinger accepted the offer and soon “recruited” Hoyle and Golden, according to the indictment.
The three men received $17,000 in the scheme in exchange for keeping the stolen goods away from thieves and the detection of other law enforcement agencies and even agreed to use violence, if necessary, to carry out such duties, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
All six men appeared in a Charlotte courtroom today on the charges.
They each face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, if convicted, the release said.
Interim City Manager Jeff Cash released a separate statement late Wednesday announcing that Police Chief Woody Burgess and Captain Mike Allred have been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, though neither has been charged to this point.
“As interim city manager, I will be naming myself interim police chief with the day-to-day operational activities to be supervised by Sgt. Cam Jenks,” Cash wrote.
Cash said safety of the citizens would not be compromised by the investigation into the police department and other law enforcement agencies were assisting as needed.