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Former Durham Deputy May Face Federal Charges In Larger Probe

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DURHAM, N.C. — A former Durham County deputy faces drug-trafficking charges related to his nightclub. Now, state and federal investigators say he may be linked to a larger operation that includes human trafficking.

Former deputy and nightclub owner Michael Owens faces several drug charges related to the La Zona Club in Durham. The Durham County Sheriff's Office fired him this week in the wake of a Friday raid.

Investigators believe La Zona acted as a hub for drug dealing. Search warrants detail cocaine and marijuana buys in back rooms and bathrooms.

In August, Durham police shut down three brothels. FBI Special Agent In Charge Greg Baker told WRAL that federal agents and local authorities believe women are being brought from Mexico to New York, then to the Triangle, where they're forced to sell themselves to pay travel expenses. Baker said there might be a connection between La Zona and the August bust.

"We're looking at a nexus with regards to the transportation of the women involved in the human trafficking," Baker said.

Court documents appear to back that up, with mentions of club regulars who authorities said have been involved in murder-for-hire and human-trafficking schemes in the past.

"That is going to be one of the major focuses of the investigation -- to make a determination of who knew what was going on inside the establishment," said Baker.

Former deputies Keith Dodson and Brad King worked at La Zona doing off-duty security. Both were fired Monday, but haven't been charged.

Court papers refer to drug deals taking place about 30 feet away from two off-duty officers, but no names are mentioned. Baker said that if the two knew about the illegal activity and didn't report it, they might face federal charges.

"We're going to be vigilant in pursuing those who would violate public trust," Baker said.

Authorities said the investigation is ongoing. When it wraps up, the FBI will consult with the U.S. Attorney's Office to decide if federal charges are warranted.


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