Two former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers cut a deal with federal prosecutors that, if a judge approves, would let them serve the minimum sentence for conspiring with a suspected drug dealer and informant to sell crack cocaine.
Gerald Holas Jr. and Jason Ross entered their pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler on Wednesday, a little more than a month after federal authorities charged the pair.
But the two men told the judge nothing about how or why they got involved in a conspiracy that cost them their careers and freedom – and could result in the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases.
In exchange for the pleas, prosecutors agreed to the minimum, 10 years in prison, for both; the maximum for drug conspiracy is life. Keesler ordered a pre-sentence report for U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad to review before sentencing, probably in the fall.
Under the agreement, if Conrad rejects the recommended sentence, Holas and Ross can withdraw their pleas. If that happens, “we're back to square one,” said Ross' attorney, Chris Fialko.
In return for the recommended minimum, the two men must make “full, accurate and complete disclosure(s)” to federal authorities about their involvement in the conspiracy. If they're found to have lied, or if they commit any crime, the deal is off.
Ross and Holas, both 35, remain in the county jail without bond. They were arrested last month and charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. The two resigned last month from CMPD.
The two ex-officers were accused of conspiring with suspected drug dealer David Lockhart, 25, who has been charged with conspiracy and possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. Lockhart also remains without bond in the county jail.
“Jerry Holas is truly saddened by his behavior and activities as a cop,” Holas' attorney, Tony Scheer, said after the plea. “He knows he's done something wrong.”
Cases may be dismissed
Holas, who primarily worked drug cases, didn't accept drug money during his involvement with Lockhart, Scheer said. “This was, rather, a terribly misguided and criminal effort to work an informant,” he said, “and in so doing they were facilitating his drug business.”
The two men could have forced the U.S. Attorney's Office to bring the case before a federal grand jury, then to trial. But, Scheer said, “everybody wanted to go through with this as quickly as possible.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dana Washington declined comment afterward, and Fialko declined to discuss specifics of the case.
Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist has said his office plans to dismiss any pending cases in which Holas or Ross played crucial roles. A source familiar with the case has told the Observer the cases may number in the hundreds.
A group Gilchrist has assembled to review the cases and determine which ones should be thrown out is still investigating, Assistant District Attorney Heather Taraska, who heads the effort, said Wednesday.
In a statement Wednesday, police Chief Rodney Monroe said he understands criminal cases against officers undermine public confidence in the department.
“I truly believe that this is an isolated incident and is not indicative of any larger problem within the department,” said Monroe, who joined CMPD on June 16. “All of us at CMPD are saddened by the behavior of these individuals but are pleased that their plea bargains will ensure that they are held accountable for their actions.”
‘A stain' on the city
The investigation of Holas and Ross began about seven months ago, after a confidential source informed the FBI that Lockhart was involved in distributing cocaine and that at least two CMPD officers knew about it and were protecting him, according to an affidavit. The source told the FBI that Lockhart had been in contact with the officers since July 2007.
Holas and Ross have admitted to authorities that they protected Lockhart's cocaine distribution. But they say they did so in exchange for information they could use to arrest his suppliers and customers, according to the affidavit.
The officers also admitted participating in a number of acts to further Lockhart's drug distribution, the court document says. In court Wednesday, neither Holas nor Ross said what those acts were.
But an affidavit from FBI Agent Eric Davis last month says, among other things, that Holas once advised Lockhart to move because his home was “hot” and police might soon raid it. The two officers also gave Lockhart the address of someone who had robbed him, allowing Lockhart to seek revenge, Davis wrote.
Lockhart has admitted that he moved large quantities of cocaine with others, the affidavit says. He confirmed the officers' account that he would get their protection in exchange for information that would help in arresting others.
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who said last month that the arrests were “a stain” on the city and department, said Wednesday that Holas and Ross “deserve every bit of the 10 years, and more, because of the damage they've caused.”
The crimes not only damage the reputations of honorable officers “but also could be responsible for others getting released from jail to potentially commit other crimes,” McCrory, the Republican nominee for N.C. governor, said from a campaign stop in New Bern. “That's what's even more distressing to me.”