An undercover federal investigation is shaking up the Cherryville Police Department this week, amid claims that some police officers were operating on the wrong side of the law.
Four law enforcement officers and two other men who are accused of conspiring earlier this year to safeguard stolen property and proceeds from their sale, are set to make their second appearance in a Charlotte courtroom today, following an FBI raid on Wednesday.
The officers have also been accused of securing monetary bribes for their legal authority in the operation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the state’s Western District said.
According to federal authorities, the men made a serious blunder – their partners in the conspiracy, whom they believed to be criminals, were actually undercover FBI agents.
As a result of the arrests, the city of Cherryville has also suspended its police chief and captain.
Federal officials are not saying who else might be a target of the ongoing investigation.
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 a press release.
Federal authorities also charged Dellinger with with an extra count of extortion.
The three men are accused of protecting the men they believed were co-conspirators 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 agents they thought were criminals in protecting the transport of more than $300,000 in stolen merchandise along with more than $300,000 in proceeds from the items’ sale, the release 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 phony criminals 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 and Cherryville Fire Chief Jeff Cash released a separate statement late Wednesday announcing that Police Chief Woody Burgess and Capt. Mike Allred, a Lincoln County resident, 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.
Individuals with emergencies can call 911 or police dispatch at (704) 435-1717.
The Gaston County District Attorney’s Office was quoted by other area news media saying they may drop pending criminal cases relying on any of charged officers’ testimonies, though the Times-News was unable to independently confirm this. Just how many cases that would include is also unclear.
Five of the six suspects remain without bond behind Mecklenburg County bars. The location of John Hendricks is currently unknown. He was not listed as a current Mecklenburg County inmate and does not even have a record in the county, an employee with CharMeck Citizen Services told the Times-News Thursday afternoon.
The State Bureau of Investigation has also been looking into the city of Cherryville since last year for misuse of town funds.