Several remain at large in Ark. corruption probe

AP News

10/12/2011 9:28:16 PM - AP News

Federal officials continued their search Wednesday for several people who remained at large following a widespread crackdown on corruption that culminated in the arrests of dozens of others this week in eastern Arkansas.

FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said the bureau and other law enforcement agencies were still hunting for the last of the 70 people indicted on racketeering, money laundering and drug charges as part of the four-year investigation known as "Operation Delta Blues." Five law enforcement officers were among those indicted.

Fifty-one people were arrested Tuesday, and another five were arrested Wednesday, including some who turned themselves in, Frazier said. Those detained were expected to appear Thursday morning in federal court.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer said in an interview that he expected some defendants to take guilty pleas "relatively quickly." He declined to say if any of the defendants had agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

"If they want their day in court, we're willing to give it to them," Thyer said.

News of the investigation rocked Helena-West Helena, a Mississippi Delta town plagued for years by crime, poverty and allegations of corruption. Some residents awoke Tuesday to the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead.

"I'm thankful," said Linda Walters, a school bus driver who waited outside a press conference Tuesday afternoon after hearing the news.

She said the constant gunfire outside her home had forced her to look into moving to another city.

"I have to go sleep, hit the floor every time I hear a bullet shot," she said. "I'm so upset."

Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis sat next to reporters during the news conference. Willis had gone to Little Rock a month ago to plead with Thyer for federal help. Thyer didn't tell Willis about Operation Delta Blues until Tuesday's arrests, but Willis said he didn't mind.

"Welcome to the dawning of a new day in the Delta," he told reporters afterward.

The indictments accused the five officers of taking payments to guard shipments of cocaine and other drugs. Phillips County sheriff's deputy Winston Dean Jackson is allegedly caught on a federal wiretap talking to another deputy about a payment by a defense lawyer in exchange for "failing to perform law enforcement duties."

The unidentified deputy said the payment fell under "the good old boy" system and that anyone not involved would "get rolled over."

Thyer would not comment on any future indictments but said the investigation was still ongoing.

According to the indictment, Jackson responded, "You get rolled over, exactly. Cause nobody say ... ain't nothing but the good old boy system."

Helena-West Helena police officers Herman Eaton, Robert "Bam Bam" Rogers and Marlene Kalb allegedly escorted drug shipments, each receiving $500 from someone posing as a drug dealer. A Marvell police officer, Robert Wahls, is charged with accepting money from an informant and escorting a drug shipment.

It was not immediately clear if the five officers had attorneys yet. Relatives of the officers could not be reached. The federal public defender's office in Little Rock did not return requests for comment.

Hundreds of officers from the FBI, Arkansas State Police and other agencies helped make Tuesday's arrests. An FBI special agent was shot during one arrest, but was not seriously injured and later released from the hospital.

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Online:

List of eight of the nine suspects still missing: http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/alert/drug-related-charges/view