Sally Q. Yates
Sally Q. Yates (File photo)

A federal judge spent much of Monday sentencing nearly a dozen former law enforcement officers to prison terms ranging from three to nine years for taking cash to provide security for drug traffickers—often while wearing their uniforms and driving patrol cars.

Former U.S. District Court Chief Julie Carnes, who was sworn in Thursday as the newest judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, began sentencing the defendants shortly after 10 a.m. Carnes is sitting by special designation on the Northern District of Georgia bench until mid-August.

The cases stem from an FBI corruption investigation that took shape after informants told federal agents that metro drug gangs and drug cartel members were recruiting local police to provide cover for the gangs’ illegal activities, both from rival gangs and from legitimate law enforcement.

In February 2013, seven metro Atlanta police officers, two former Dekalb County jailers, a contract officer with Federal Protective Services and five civilians were charged with accepting thousands of dollars in cash payments to provide protection during drug deals. At the time, U.S. Attorney Sally Yates called the arrests “a troubling day for law enforcement” in metro Atlanta, adding that the officers who were taken into custody “sold their badges by taking payoffs from drug dealers that they should have been arresting.”

The officers were hired in order to prevent rival drug gangs from intervening and stealing drugs or money from the narcotics traffickers who recruited them and to steer legitimate police away from the sites of the illicit drug transactions, according to federal prosecutors and court records in the cases.

The drug deals in question often involved the sale of multiple kilos of cocaine, prosecutors said.

On Monday, Carnes sentenced 11 law enforcement officers to federal prison terms. Many of the sentences resulted from binding pleas between federal prosecutors and lawyers representing the defendants, which gave the judge little leeway other than to accept or reject the plea.

Some defense lawyers attributed the crimes to alcohol or drug abuse by the defendants, dire financial straits or the temptation of “quick easy money” that prompted them to make “bad choices.”

Carnes sentenced first Gregory Harvey, who had once worked as a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy. Carnes adhered to the negotiated plea and sentenced Harvey to nine years in prison and 125 hours of community service, although she expressed concerns that Harvey’s “propensity for violence” might make him an unsuitable candidate for community work.

Harvey, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Dammers, retained his old deputy uniform when he left the department in 2005 and wore it and a holstered gun to drug deals for which he was paid to provide security.

Dammers said that Harvey also had been arrested for driving a stolen car after he had fled from police and was able, at first, to elude them. During the search for Harvey, she said, a DeKalb police officer who had been called as backup was killed after he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree.

Asked by the judge if he wanted to say anything to the court, Harvey, dressed in a pink polo shirt, said, “No, ma’am.”

Carnes also handed down the following sentences:

• six years in prison and 100 hours of community service for former DeKalb County jailer Monyette McLaurin;

• seven years and 125 hours of community service for DeKalb police officers Dorian Williams and Dennis Duren;

• seven years and 125 hours of community service for Forest Park police Sergeant Victor Middlebrook;

• five years for private security officer Alexander Hill, one of the two defendants who addressed the court before he was sentenced, apologizing to his family;

• five years and 100 hours of community service for Atlanta police officer Kelvin Allen;

• five years for former MARTA police officer Marquez Holmes, who apologized to his family and friends he said he had “let down,” as well as to the law enforcement community that he said his criminal activities had embarrassed;

• three years for former contract Federal Protective Services officer Sharon Peters;

• 33 months for former DeKalb jailer Chase Valentine, who pretended he was a sheriff’s deputy and brought a BB gun to drug deals to bolster the ruse; and

• 37 months for Stone Mountain police officer Denoris Carter.