JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Federal authorities say a Mississippi sheriff gave protection for years to a drug dealer who robbed other dealers and kicked back stolen money and drug profits to the lawman.
The illegal partnership began about 15 years ago when Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer — who resigned Tuesday — began helping a then-teenage drug dealer, federal officials allege in a sworn statement .
They said the unnamed dealer robbed other dealers of drugs and money, giving stolen money and proceeds from drug sales to the sheriff of the rural Mississippi Delta county, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Memphis, Tennessee.
The scheme began to collapse June 12, when the FBI says it persuaded the dealer to become a confidential informant. The FBI arrested the 58-year-old Brewer on Friday, charging him with conspiracy to sell drugs and extortion.
Defense lawyer Kevin Horan declined to comment Tuesday on Brewer’s guilt or innocence. “That’s what they claim; that’s all I can say,” Horan told The Associated Press when asked about the allegations.
After spending the weekend in jail, Brewer resigned as sheriff ahead of a Tuesday court appearance.
Tallahatchie County supervisors will appoint a replacement to serve until the 2019 general election.
Horan said Brewer resigned because it would have been “too messy” for him to remain as sheriff of the 16,000-person county and because it smoothed the way for prosecutors to agree to his release after a weekend in jail.
“Under the circumstances, he thought it was in the best interests of the county and his best interest,” Horan said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Roy Percy released Brewer on $25,000 bail, ordering him to remain at home except for work, school, religious services, medical visits or court business. Horan said Brewer will await a federal grand jury’s decision on whether to indict him. If convicted on the current charges, Brewer faces up to 40 years in prison.
The arrest could end what the FBI says is Brewer’s long criminal career. The sworn statement says the informant estimates he robbed drug dealers at least 50 times over the years, taking and later selling methamphetamine and various forms of cocaine. The informant told the FBI that Brewer continued to shelter his illegal activities when he found a few years ago that the informant had gone into a more traditional form of drug dealing, selling meth bought from illegal suppliers. The FBI says that during this stage of the relationship, the informant was paying Brewer $500 to $600 every two weeks from his drug-dealing profits.
“One more than one occasion, Brewer warned (the informant) to proceed with caution while conducting illegal activity due to the presence of local, state and/or federal law enforcement,” FBI Special Agent Justin Niedzwecki swore in the affidavit.
Once the informant was working for the FBI, he planned one last deal with agents listening in. The FBI alleges the informant told Brewer of a fictional plan to rob someone of 9 to 10 kilograms of methamphetamine, discussing the plan with Brewer in person and in recorded telephone calls in late June. At the FBI’s direction, after falsely claiming he had completed the robbery, the informant paid Brewer $10,000 in cash bribes. The FBI says the informant made three trips to Brewer’s house in Oakland between June 21 and July 26, each time leaving FBI-photographed $10, $20 and $100 bills in a bucket in Brewer’s barn at the sheriff’s direction.
Niedzwecki alleged that during the informant’s final conversation, he told the sheriff he “had sold all the bricks of methamphetamine” he had stolen and “had nothing left.” The FBI agent says Brewer responded by encouraging the informant “to continue selling methamphetamine” and warning him “to be careful” with who he was dealing with.
The FBI arrested Brewer 15 days later.