WRAL Investigates

Warrant: Little oversight of money flowing through Granville drug unit

Posted February 10, 2020 6:03 p.m. EST

— Drug investigators in the Granville County Sheriff's Office didn't keep track of how much money was paid to informants and may have illegally coerced people into becoming informants, according to a recently unsealed search warrant.

Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was suspended in September after he was indicted on two counts of obstruction of justice. Wilkins is accused of urging someone in 2014 to kill a deputy he thought was about to expose his alleged use of racially offensive language.

Shortly after Wilkins was charged, state and federal investigators began looking into the operations of the sheriff's office drug unit. FBI and State Bureau of Investigation agents are tracking money seized and used by sheriff's investigators in drug cases.

The SBI seized the "special funds expenditure ledger" from the sheriff's office narcotics unit in September as part of "an investigation into alleged financial malfeasance" by Wilkins and his drug officers, according to an application for a warrant to examine the ledger.

District Attorney Mike Waters told SBI investigators that his office had to drop charges in more than 100 cases in 2017 because the drug unit didn't document any of its interactions with a frequent informant, including any agreements with him, how much he was paid or who was to be targeted in undercover drugs buys.

The application for the warrant states that Waters continued to have concerns about the operations of the drug unit, noting a probation officer told him that a woman on probation had said drug officers had double-crossed her.

Investigators spoke with the probation officer last March, who confirmed that the woman said she had been forced to become an informant or face arrest. After she worked on four undercover drug buys – her father had to drive her because she didn't have a license – she was arrested by the drug unit, and her arrest report noted "ample time was given to provide the promised assistance, but she did not, even after being contacted repeatedly," according to the warrant application.

Waters and the probation officer noted that it's illegal to use someone on probation as an informant, unless a judge approves of the deal. There were no records of any judge being consulted about the woman, and two drug investigators, Sgt. Chad Coffey and Cpl. Bryan Carey, both denied ever using a probationer an an informant.

Coffey and Carey were reassigned to logistics positions in the sheriff's office last fall.

Wilkins, who has denied any wrongdoing, agreed to step aside and be suspended with pay until the charges are resolved. County officials last month named Charles Noblin, an 18-year veteran of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office, as sheriff during Wilkins' suspension.

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