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Columbus police officers arrested Thursday tied to case of rogue narcotics detectives

February 2nd, 2024

Two Columbus police officers have been arrested in a federal drug investigation where they're accused of stealing cocaine and trying to sell it in a case connected to the previous arrest of two other Columbus officers.

A federal grand jury indicted John Castillo, 31, of Grove City, a member of the Columbus Division of Police since June 2019, and Joel M. Mefford, 34, of London, a member of the police division since June 2011.

Both are charged in separate indictments with possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute. Mefford also faces two counts of cocaine possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more and money laundering.

The charges against Castillo and Mefford are directly connected to charges against two other former Columbus police officers, John Kotchkoski and Marco Merino.

Cocaine coming from the rafters

According to his indictment in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Mefford and another officer, who is not named, were investigating drug crimes on Feb. 5, 2020, at a detached garage that belonged to a suspect in the investigation and planned to execute a search warrant there the next morning. But an employee at the unnamed apartment complex where the garage was located gave both officers access to the garage, and they illegally searched it, the indictment states.

Mefford and the other officer removed two kilos of cocaine in the garage rafters, took one of the kilos, and left the other kilo for officers to discover during the planned Feb. 6 raid, according to the indictment.

On March 7, 2020, Mefford was again investigating a drug trafficking operation with an unnamed officer at houses on Ambleside Drive and Kilbourne Avenue in Columbus. The indictment states that Mefford and the other officer approached a suspect in their investigation, who is only identified in the indictment as "Person B," at an unnamed gas station.

Person B told the officers that there was cocaine in the house on Ambleside Drive, and the two officers, along with Person B, went to the house on Ambleside, where they met another individual identified only as "Person C."

Mefford and the other officer seized a bag with multiple kilos of cocaine from Person C and, at some point, arrested that person, according to the indictment.

The officers went to the Kilbourne Avenue house, where they were accused in the indictment of stealing a kilo of cocaine from the home.

Later that same day, Mefford turned in only one kilo of cocaine to the Columbus police property room where evidence is held, court documents state. He then stole the other kilos and gave them to an unidentified person to sell, the indictment states.

Police property room not even secure from cocaine theft

Mefford is also accused in the indictment of working with the other, unidentified officer in April 2020 to steal 20 kilograms of cocaine from the Columbus police evidence room and replacing it with fake cocaine.

According to the indictment, Mefford and the other officer entered the police property room with a black case full of fake cocaine. The two officers are then accused of swapping the 20 kilos of real cocaine that had been seized in a previous drug bust with fake cocaine.

Mefford and the other officer left in their police cruisers and later rendezvoused at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, where Mefford gave the stolen cocaine to the other police officer, according to the indictment. That officer then gave the cocaine to unnamed "Person D" to sell, the indictment states.

Mefford deposited $72,015 in proceeds from drug trafficking into his personal JP Morgan Chase bank account, the indictment alleges, leading to the money laundering charge.

Castillo accused of planting cocaine, illegal property seizure

According to his separate indictment, Castillo was investigating a drug trafficking operation on Feb. 3, 2021, when Castillo and the unnamed officer conducted a traffic stop on a male suspect identified only as "Person A" after Castillo saw him and his wife, Person B, picking up a bag with cash at an unidentified local business on Lockbourne Road.

Castillo and the other officer allegedly found out that Person A gave Person C several kilos of cocaine to hold for him, according to the indictment. Castillo, the other officer and Person A went to the latter's home on North Everett Avenue. Using an access code given to them by Person A, Castillo and the other officer planted two kilos of cocaine under the basement stairs inside the home while Person A waited outside, the indictment states.

After planting the cocaine, Castillo and the other officer went with Person A back to the site of the traffic stop, collected the wife (Person B) and went back to the home on North Everett. The officers asked the couple for permission to search the home, and the couple consented, according to the indictment.

The officers seized the two kilos of cocaine they had planted earlier, according to the indictment, which does not state whether the couple was then arrested.

The next day, Feb. 4, 2021, Castillo and the other officer went to a storage unit owned by the couple from North Everett and illegally seized property from the unit, the indictment states. The indictment does not indicate whether the property the officers are accused of taking was cocaine or something else.

Mayor 'disgusted,' police chief calls actions 'abuse of trust'

Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant released statements Thursday reacting to the announcement of the federal indictments of Mefford and Castillo.

In a statement on their official X page (formerly Twitter), Bryant called the behavior described in the allegations as a "blatant abuse of authority and trust."

"Integrity is one of the core values of the Columbus Division of Police. We expect every officer wearing this badge to hold themselves to the highest degree of transparency both on and off the job," Bryant said.

Columbus police have been working in "full collaboration" with the FBI, she said.

"The alleged selfish actions of these two officers jeopardized the safety of the community, all in an effort to line their own pockets," Ginther said.

"I am disgusted. We have made great strides in rebuilding trust between police and the community, and we will not allow the actions of a few to deter our progress," Ginther said, adding that "the officers will be held accountable."

Are latest indictments connected to 2022 convictions of 2 Columbus police narcotics officers?

The indictments of Mefford and Castillo are not the first time Columbus police officers working on narcotics investigations have been accused of serious drug crimes.

On Sept. 28, 2021, Marco Merino and John Kotchkoski, two former Columbus police narcotics detectives, were accused by federal authorities of possessing and trafficking cocaine and fentanyl after they sold the drugs to confidential informants, one of whom worked for the FBI as part of a months-long investigation into the duo's illegal activity.

Merino pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Columbus to the trafficking charges against him on Feb. 8, 2022. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Kotchkoski pleaded guilty on April 1, 2022, to conspiring to traffic cocaine and fentanyl. However, Kotchkoski's sentencing has not occurred, and was moved again on Jan. 4 to May 2 before U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus.

In a related case memorandum filed in Mefford's case on Jan. 4, federal prosecutors said the cases involving Kotchkoski and Merino are connected and asked Mefford and Castillo's cases to be moved to the same judge hearing Kotchkoski and Merino's cases.

A similar memo was filed in Castillo's case on Tuesday, according to federal court records.

Neither Castillo or Mefford are listed as currently having attorneys in the case. Both are currently being held in custody pending future hearings.

Here are stories from The Dispatch's extensive reporting on the Merino and Kotchkoski cases:

How an FBI sting led to arrests of two Columbus cops for drug trafficking: a timeline

Former Columbus narcotics cop admits selling cocaine, fentanyl, will surrender over $500K

Here's what we know about two Columbus police officers charged with drug trafficking

Former Columbus police officer pleads guilty to trafficking more than 8 kilos of fentanyl

Former Columbus narcotics officer sentenced for trafficking fentanyl

Dispatch reporter Bethany Bruner contributed to this story.


This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch


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