WASHINGTON -- In one of the largest police corruption cases in Washington's history, a dozen officers have been indicted on charges that they took bribes to protect federal undercover agents who they thought were drug dealers and to help transport cocaine.
The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury Tuesday, when the defendants were taken into custody. All 12 pleaded not guilty yesterday and were taken from the courtroom to a local jail, where they will be held pending hearings on whether they should be granted bail.
Most of the defendants are in their 20s and have served on the police force for less than four years, all in the Fifth District, which covers part of the northeast section of Washington between the Capitol and the Anacostia River.
The charges, which followed an 18-month investigation dubbed Operation Broken Faith, have shaken confidence in a force that has responsibility for policing one of the most violent and drug-ridden cities in the nation. Seeking to stem that loss of confidence, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly declared the indictment was further evidence authorities were proving effective in a campaign to crack down on official corruption.
Prosecutors described yesterday a conspiracy in which new officers joining it told an undercover FBI agent posing as a major drug trafficker of their qualifications for doing corrupt work. Those accounts, the authorities said, included stories in which the officers recalled having previously taken bribes, dealt drugs and stolen from suspects.
According to the charges, the undercover agent, Jose Oliver, told the officers he was a leading drug trafficker from Miami. The authorities said they had many audio and videotape recordings of the police officers moving cocaine and boasting that in other cases they had stolen drugs and sold them on the street. But FBI agents acknowledged yesterday that they did not know whether those remarks were true or simply idle boasting intended to impress Mr. Oliver and other undercover agents.
Prosecutors said the case began in 1992 when one of the officers told a drug dealer friend he had received money from a second dealer in exchange for warnings about outstanding warrants. That officer, identified by the indictment as Nygel M. Brown, then began taking money from his friend in exchange for information from police files.
When Officer Brown asked the drug dealer for a meeting with his "Miami man," the dealer arranged a meeting between the officer and the undercover agent, authorities said.
A second meeting was set up a month later in Miami, with Mr. Oliver and another undercover agent, known as "Juan." The agent told Officer Brown of his plan to use Washington as a distribution point for as much as 100 kilograms of cocaine a month, according to the charges.
"During their conversation," the indictment said, "Officer Brown expressed his willingness to accept payments from Jose in exchange for using his badge to provide protection for Jose's narcotics activities."