Northampton deputies, NC corrections officers caught in drug sting
Posted April 30, 2015
Updated May 1, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A two-year investigation has led to federal drug and weapons charges against seven current or former Northampton County deputies, three state corrections officers and five other people, authorities said Thursday.
The group conspired to move large shipments of heroin and cocaine through North Carolina to both South Carolina and Maryland, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker alleged during a news conference.
"When officers violate the trust that the public has instilled in them, it tears at the very core of what holds a community together," Walker said. "The people of North Carolina expect and deserve law enforcement officers who will serve and protect, not those who will violate the promises they have made."
Halifax County deputies received a tip two years ago that members of the Northampton County Sheriff's Office were involved in illegal activity and passed the information along to state and federal authorities, said John Strong, who heads the FBI in North Carolina. Officers from various agencies then participated in a sting, dubbed "Operation Rockfish" – a cultural reference to Weldon being the world's "Rockfish Capital" – involving "sham drugs" and cash to uncover the extent of the scheme, he said.
"When it comes to local, state and federal agencies, working together does work," Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said.
Authorities wouldn't provide details of the investigation or how long the drug ring allegedly operated before it was discovered. They said the case remains under investigation and could lead to more arrests.
"Deputies and correctional officers used their law enforcement positions to line their own pockets," Strong said. "They vowed to protect and serve but instead were motivated by pure greed and tarnished the badges they were trusted to carry.
All 15 people charged in the case were arrested Thursday morning. Walker said one group was picked up at the Halifax-Northampton Regional Airport in Halifax, where they were expecting to move a shipment of drugs. A second group was picked up at a Rocky Mount warehouse while waiting on the shipment for distribution in other states, he said.
Both the airport and the warehouse had been used by the drug ring previously, he said.
Strong described the reactions of those arrested as "shock and disbelief."
The Northampton County Sheriff's Office and the Windsor Police Department, where one of those charged works, were notified Thursday morning of the investigation and the arrests, Strong said. Both agencies have promised to cooperate in the investigation, he said.
Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith was equally shocked when he learned of the alleged corruption.
"It was devastating when I first got wind of it," said Smith, who has been in office since mid-2013. "If people commit these crimes, regardless of who they are, they should be brought to justice."
The sheriff said he had "suspicions" of wrongdoing by some of his deputies but said, "That is not enough to do anything."
"You have to have knowledge of it either be seeing, hearing, someone telling you, reading it. Without those things, you don't have it," he said. "Most of our people are honest. They really are.”
All of the arrested deputies have been fired, he said.
The following people have been charged in a 54-count indictment that was unsealed Thursday with conspiracy to distribute and posses with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin and with carrying and using firearms in relation to drug trafficking offenses:
- Northampton County deputies Ikeisha Jacobs, 32, Jason Boone, 29, Jimmy Pair Jr., 48, Curtis Boone, 31, and Thomas Jefferson Allen II, 37
- Former Northampton County deputies Wardie Vincent Jr., 35, and Cory Jackson, 43
- Northampton County 911 dispatcher Tosha Dailey, 31
- North Carolina Department of Public Safety corrections officers Adrienne Moody, 39, Alaina Sue-kam-ling, 27, and Kavon Phillips, 25. Moody and Phillips work at Odom Correctional Institution in Jackson, while Sue-kam-ling works at Brown Creek Correctional Institution in Polkton.
- Windsor police officer Antonio Tillman, 31.
- Virginia Department of Corrections officers Lann Tjuan Clanton, 36, a former Weldon police officer, and Alphonso Ponton, 42
- Raleigh resident Crystal Pierce, 31
Vincent is the son of former Northampton County Sheriff Wardie Vincent, who retired two years ago after 15 years as the county's top law enforcement officer. The elder Vincent declined to comment Thursday on his son's arrest.
All of the current law enforcement officers also face bribery charges, Walker said. Some defendants also face charges of attempted extortion, money laundering and using a firearm during a violent crime.
All 15 are scheduled to appear in federal court in Raleigh on Friday morning.
The corruption case is the largest in eastern North Carolina since "Operation Tarnished Badge" snagged 22 law enforcement officers, including a former sheriff, a decade ago on charges of kidnapping, money laundering, burning houses during drug raids and obstruction of justice.