Three Miami police officers face federal drug charges after allegedly accepting cash in exchange for police protection in a cocaine and opioid distribution operation.
A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday alleged that a citizen complaint sparked a months-long FBI sting operation, culminating with the arrest of Officers Schonton Harris, Kelvin Harris and James Archibald. The officers were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute, attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and using a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, which are federal felony offenses.
“No one, not even a police officer, is above the law,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who took office last month, said at Tuesday’s news conference. That includes the officers now charged with the very crimes they had a duty to investigate, report and help prosecute, she said.
“Sometimes we have bad seeds in law enforcement. Those officers who dishonor their badge and who endanger the public will be called to answer for the crimes they commit,” Orshan said.
According to the complaint, Schonton Harris masterminded the scheme.
In a recorded conversation, she agreed to serve as a police escort for a drug courier who was “purportedly collecting drug proceeds from pharmacies and clinics engaging in the illegal sale of opioids and then driving to a bank to deposit the proceeds,” according to the complaint.
This happened several times between May and June. In July, the complaint alleges, Harris escorted what she believed to be a shipment of 2,000 opioid pills and several kilograms of cocaine through Miami.
The sting operation expanded the following month when she met with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a high-ranking member of a drug trafficking organization, the complaint alleges.
Then, Harris allegedly recruited the two other police officers.
The trio collectively acted as security escorts for cocaine traffickers and money-laundering couriers in exchange for cash, on one occasion personally transporting 30 kilogram-size bricks of sham cocaine, according to the complaint. Schonton Harris, Kelvin Harris and Archibald allegedly received $17,000, $10,000 and $6,500 in bribes, respectively.
The complaint says Schonton Harris, who admitted to using and selling drugs while on the job and rigging police department drug testing, also sold a city of Miami police uniform and badge to an undercover FBI agent for $1,500, knowing it would be used by a hit man to kill an individual who stole drugs from the trafficker.
Law enforcement at the state and federal level worked together to bring the public corruption case to a close.
“I hope these arrests serve as a warning,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, because officers who betray the badge will be held accountable. “There is no refuge for you here. If you are corrupt, we’ll find you and you will answer for your crimes. That is the commitment from the Miami Police Department to every resident of the city of Miami.”
According to the Miami Herald, the trio are expected to appear in federal court on Wednesday. If convicted of the conspiracy and attempted narcotics possession with intent to distribute charges, the defendants each face life in prison and a mandatory-minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.