CHERRYVILLE Four law enforcement officers in Gaston County are among six people arrested Wednesday, accused of offering to provide protection to trucks carrying stolen goods and cash.
The four consist of three Cherryville police officers and a Gaston County sheriffs deputy.
The arrests came after federal agents searched Cherryville Town Hall, the towns police department, a private residence and at least one vehicle.
Charged are Frankie Dellinger, 40, a reserve officer with the Cherryville Police Department; Casey Justin Crawford, 32, a Cherryville police officer; David Paul Mauney III, 23, a reserve officer with the Cherryville police; Wesley Clayton Golden, 39, a reserve deputy with the Gaston County Sheriffs Office; Mark Ray Hoyle, 39, of Cherryville; and John Ashley Hendricks, 47, of Cherryville.
Authorities say Hoyle and Hendricks are not law enforcement officers. Hoyle, according to prosecutors, posed as a Gaston County sheriffs deputy but was never a law enforcement officer.
The six men were charged in two indictments.
In addition, according to several broadcast and published reports Thursday morning, interim City Manager Jeff Cash has suspended police Chief Woody Burgess and Captain Mike Allred with pay during the investigation. Cash, who also is fire chief, will take over as interim police chief but said he is appointing a sergeant to manage the police departments day-to-day business.
FBI: Protection for tractor-trailers
One of the indictments alleges that Dellinger, Golden and Hoyle conspired with undercover law enforcement agents starting in August to provide protection for tractor-trailers carrying what the defendants believed to be stolen merchandise, such as televisions, generators and motor vehicles. The three men also are accused of conspiring to provide protection for the transportation of more than $400,000, which they believed to be proceeds from the sale of stolen goods.
In the other indictment, Crawford, Mauney and Hendricks are accused of conspiring with undercover agents to provide protection for truckloads of stolen merchandise, which purportedly included televisions, generators and chain saws as well as the transportation of more than $300,000 in cash they believed to be proceeds from the sale of stolen goods.
Cherryville Mayor Bob Austell said Wednesday the arrests were embarrassing for the community and embarrassing for me personally.
He said the town had called for an investigation after detecting irregularities in the finance department more than a year ago. The town clerk and finance officer left their jobs, followed later by a clerk in the finance department, he said.
In June, the City Council fired City Manager David Hodgkins.
Austin said the town has a plan to bring in quality replacements for those employees who were arrested.
We dont know how many (people) may be involved, but we will police this city, he said. Security is our No. 1 one responsibility.
I hate this, he said of the arrests. People make choices in life, but sometimes they make bad choices.
A Cherryville native and five-term mayor, Austell added: I love my town. Were going to be a stronger town when we get all this behind us.
The defendants made their first appearances Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Charlotte.
The men, their legs shackled, were brought one at a time before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Savage read the charges and the maximum penalties, Mauney appeared to be crying and wiping tears from his eyes.
Savage told the judge he wanted the men kept in jail at least until authorities can learn more about them. We believe hes a danger to the community and a flight risk, the prosecutor said of one of the men.
The judge will decide during hearings Friday whether the six men should be locked up without bond pending their trials, or released from jail on bond.
All six men are charged with conspiracy to transport and receive stolen property and conspiracy to extort.
Dellinger, Golden and Hoyle also are charged with transporting stolen property, money laundering and possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
The crimes carry maximum punishments ranging from five years to life in prison.
Investigation began in 2011
Sources reported in 2011 to the FBI that Dellinger, then a full-time Cherryville police officer, had engaged in illegal activities involving the misuse of his public office, according to one of the indictments.
The FBI launched an undercover investigation. Agents posed as persons engaged in the sale of vehicles and goods stolen outside the state.
Dellinger responded to a request, made by a cooperating witness, for law enforcement officers willing to provide protection for illegal activities in exchange for cash payments and stolen goods, the indictment alleges.
The defendants collectively received more than $17,000 in cash payments to follow what they believed to be tractor-trailer loads of stolen goods as they traveled from Gaston and Cleveland counties and Charlotte to cities in South Carolina, according to the indictment against Dellinger, Golden and Hoyle.
In exchange for the cash and purportedly stolen high-definition TVs, the defendants agreed to use their credentials as law enforcement officers to protect stolen goods and the cash from the sale of stolen goods from detection by other law enforcement authorities and from theft by anyone else, according to the indictment.
Defendants also discussed their willingness to use violence, including the use of firearms, to protect their illegal activities, the indictment alleges. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.