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Former Columbus police narcotics officer pleads guilty to drug, bribery charges

Marco Merino was arrested by federal agents in September 2021 along with fellow officer John Kotchkoski.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Columbus police narcotics officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to distribute more than eight kilograms of fentanyl and accepting bribes to protect the transportation of cocaine.

Marco Merino was arrested by federal agents in September 2021 along with fellow officer John Kotchkoski. Authorities say the two conspired to traffic fentanyl from June to September 2021.

Merino distributed fentanyl to another person on at least three occasions and accepted $32,500 for approximately one of the kilograms of fentanyl, according to authorities.

Authorities say Merino accepted a total of $45,000 in cash in exchange for protecting the safe transport of at least 47 kilograms of cocaine in March, April, May, August and September 2021.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio, Merino was unaware there was no actual cocaine and each of the transactions was controlled by federal law enforcement.

“Unlike the purported cocaine involved in transports, the fentanyl that Merino distributed was real,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Merino swore an oath to serve and protect our community as a law enforcement officer, and instead he conspired to traffic enough fentanyl to kill well over one million people.”

Court documents state that Merino tried to recruit a confidential informant to traffic drugs with him. Merino promised law enforcement protection to the person and said he could intervene if other agencies attempted to investigate.

Possessing with intent to distribute 400 grams or more fentanyl is punishable by 10 years up to life in prison. Federal program bribery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Charges against Kotchkoski remain pending.

In October, Merino submitted a letter of resignation from his position to the Department of Public Safety. 

At that time, Police Chief Elaine Bryant recommended Kotchkoski be terminated. He later submitted a letter of resignation in December.

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