WASHINGTON -- The case of a Georgia sheriff accused of selling pot to undercover FBI agents seems to be one of the first without a clear connection to the Department of Justice's new priorities for federal marijuana prosecutions.
Darrell Mathis, a 40-year-old deputy sheriff with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, was arrested Sept. 19 as the result of an undercover FBI investigation that started in April. He's charged with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana, which carries a maximum five year sentence, and using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, which carries a maximum term of life in prison. Mathis, who joined the Newton County Sheriff's Office in 2008, is currently on administrative suspension and out on bond.
The new federal prosecution guidelines were issued in part because of new laws in Washington and Colorado that legalized marijuana at the state level, despite the fact that marijuana is still illegal federally. The guidelines apply nationwide and are meant to give federal prosecutors guidance for using their limited resources.
While there was no obvious connection to one of the eight priorities for federal marijuana prosecutions outlined by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a memo to U.S. attorneys in August, federal authorities in Georgia are treating it as a corruption case.
"This law enforcement officer is charged with running a marijuana business literally out of the back of his police car, while wearing his uniform and carrying his gun," U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Prosecuting dirty police officers will always be a top priority for the Department.”
Cole's memo specifically states that nothing in the guidelines "precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence of any one of the factors ... in particular circumstances where investigation and prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest."
According to court documents, the investigation into Mathis began in April, after two law enforcement officials told the FBI that their confidential source had seen a bunch of marijuana on Mathis' dining room table inside his Lithonia, Ga., apartment. The cooperating source agreed to assist the FBI's investigation into Mathis, saying the officer always had a lot of money on him and never worked off-duty jobs.
Mathis is accused of selling the cooperating source an ounce of marijuana for $100 in April, telling the source he "did her right, I gave her a little extra," documents show. The cooperating source allegedly bought another ounce from Mathis in May and introduced him to an undercover FBI agent. Later that month, the source allegedly bought a quarter-pound from Mathis for $300. Documents say that during a separate meeting with the undercover FBI agent (who also allegedly bought a quarter-pound from Mathis) Mathis said he didn't touch "white" -- or cocaine -- because "that shit will get you time."
Mathis sold the undercover agent a pound of marijuana for $1,000 in both June and July, according to court documents, was introduced to another FBI undercover agent, and agreed to transport marijuana or cocaine from Alabama to North Carolina for the second undercover FBI agent. During the meeting, Mathis allegedly pulled out his badge and said, "don't worry, I'm on your side."