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Police officers among 70 indicted in Helena drug case

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published October 11, 2011 at 8:45 a.m. Updated October 11, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.


The booking photographs of Robert Rogers and Robert Wahls, as identified by the sheriff's office. They are among the 70 people indicted Tuesday in Operation Delta Blues.


Seventy people, including five police officers, have been indicted on charges centering on purported large-scale drug-trafficking operations in the Phillips and Lee County areas, the U.S. District Attorney for Eastern Arkansas said Tuesday.

Christopher Thyer said at a news conference that around 800 police officers from various agencies worked to round up the suspects beginning early Tuesday morning in the first phase of an effort dubbed "Operation Delta Blues." Fourteen of the suspects remained on the loose as of Tuesday afternoon.

Thyer prefaced his remarks noting he grew up in eastern Arkansas and often heard rumors of corruption.

"For far too long, a small minority of individuals have taken over this community," he said. "What was once an idyllic garden has sprouted weeds. And up until today, no one was willing or able to eradicate those weeds ... We are here to stay until each and every one of those weeds are pulled up by roots."

The arrested suspects will appear in U.S. District Court in Little Rock beginning Thursday morning. Thyer said prosecutors will seek to have the "vast majority" of them detained.

Thyer described the suspects as "kilo-level suppliers and distributers" and police officers who aided them, primarily in Helena-West Helena. The drugs were cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana, he said.

The five police officers - who have all been arrested - are accused "of protecting criminals by taking bribes to look the other way," said Valerie Parlave, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The officers are identified in indictments as Herman Eaton, Robert "Bam Bam" Rogers and Sgt. Marlene Kalb with the Helena-West Helena Police Department, Robert Wahls with the Marvell Police Department and Winston Jackson with the Phillips County Sheriff's Department.

Thyer noted in his remarks that the Helena Mayor - Arnell Willis - came to his office with a delegation of others about a month ago complaining of a "culture of corruption" and asking for assistance.

"Well, mayor, today I can tell you what I couldn't tell you a month ago," he said. "The federal government is here and the federal government is here to stay."

One agent was reportedly shot in the upper left thigh during the arrest process Tuesday morning. He was said to be in stable condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

A suspect fired shots in one other incident, but no one was hurt.

Thyer said he could not comment on where the investigation goes from here, but that this is only the first phase.

"These 70 individuals charged today are not the end of the investigation," he said. "They are in fact the beginning. They are the first weeds we are pulling up."


An FBI agent says five police officers are among dozens of people arrested or indicted in a major drug and weapons case in eastern Arkansas.

Details on the case are not expected to be released until a 2 p.m. news conference in Helena-West Helena, but Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack said more than 60 people were targeted by investigators and most have been apprehended. He said they included five police officers, though he didn't know if they were members of the city police department.

The five officers were arrested early Tuesday.

Pack described the charges as "drug and gun" related.

A woman who answered the phone at the Helena mayor's office said Mayor Arnell Willis would have no comment before the 2 p.m. news conference.

There was no answer at a phone number listed on the city website for police chief Uless Wallace.

United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Christopher Thyer said in a statement that a significant number of arrests and indictments would be announced at the news conference.

Those scheduled to attend the event include Thyer and representatives from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Internal Revenue Service.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Thank you for coming to the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We're working to keep you informed with the latest breaking news.


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eps2011 says... October 11, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.

Its about time someone done something about all the corrupt officials in helena/west helena and any other surrounding cities. While they are at it they need to investigate the local jail employees and sheriff departments because they seem to have their own scam going on involving soliciting family members for money in exchange for giving inmates certain items.

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DontDrinkDatKoolAid says... October 11, 2011 at 10:55 a.m.

Helena-West Helena are not the only cities with this problem in Arkansas. All are can be held suspect.

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LoneStarGamer says... October 11, 2011 at 11:27 a.m.


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BentonCountyResident says... October 11, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.

I believe officers should be held to a higher standard and if they do wrong they should be punished accordingly. However, just because a handful of officers do wrong, it doesn’t mean the other thousands of officers that risk their lives every day to protect ours are bad.
There are bad apples in EVERY profession.

How many priests, school teachers, doctors etc. get into trouble?? It doesn’t make them all bad.

Hang the corrupt ones high because they make the rest look bad.

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Populist says... October 11, 2011 at 12:49 p.m.


Phillips County and other counties in eastern Arkansas have had systemic drug problems which are both caused by and contribute to high levels of poverty. While it is important that the arrests be made and that criminals be pursued, it historically has not been easy to obtain convictions in these counties. Kudos to the FBI and US attorney for trying to clean up the drug and corruption problems.

I think Arnell Willis (a former Rockefeller Republican) is a good public servant. For all we know, he helped in the investigations. There are many good people in Phillips County who have been working hard to turn that county around.

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GrimReaper says... October 11, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.

Pretty good post, Populist. Don't know that I would say that drug problems are necessarily caused by poverty but they most certainly contribute to it. I know quite a few well off people who have had drug problems.....and quite a few poor people who have never fooled with drugs.

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BentonCountyResident says... October 11, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.

My hat's off to everyone involved in the sting. It's obviously more difficult when you have local law enforcement involved as perpetrators.

I think more than 99 percent of law enforcement officers protect us and do not abuse the power given to them. Thousands of times every day police officers protect us and receive very little in return and no recognition for their service.

I'm not saying all officers are model citizens. I’m just warning about painting ALL officers with a broad brush because of the criminal actions of a few.

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dndacct says... October 11, 2011 at 3:39 p.m.

With all of this its no wonder that my civil cases in Phillips County and Prairie County do not get much attention. My case is only about trying to recover $2 million stolen from an 81 year old man. Cannot post a hyperlink here but see w**.butlervsaenger.**m

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Razorbacker1 says... October 11, 2011 at 5:17 p.m.

East Arkansas/Marianna has always been a haven/grow house for drug dealers. Does anybody remember the Chambers Gang? There have been big dope boys in Lee County and Eastern Arkansas for years! Im glad to see this cleaned up! I say lock em up and let em rot there. They don't care about being productive citizens or working a real job so let em stay in prison.

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DeltaLover says... October 12, 2011 at 2:27 a.m.

Great beginning to what I hope will be on-going in reality and not just the newspaper. Surely they are crossing the river and including Clarksdale in on the investigation. There are more drug dealers here than at the state pharmacy convention. However, it must be done like this one, all top secret to catch the few bad cops that ate involved, and all federal arrest so convictions can be obtained. The drug lords own the county courts, so there's no use going there.

Someone mentioned that poverty was a big cause of drug involvement. That couldn't be any further from the truth. A man with no money cannot but drugs and is usually concerned with putting food on the table first. If he steals to get the money to buy the drugs, he is no longer a poor person, he is a common thief. If he reverts to pushing and selling, he is no longer poor, he is an ignorant rich person ruining the lives of others. He will eventually be a murderer, maybe not from a gun, but from an OD from drugs he sold. That should go down as premeditated murder and punish lethal injection, a drug over-dose that is quite fitting. Drugs may make people poor, but being poor is not a reason for drugs. There are a lot of good poor people in the Delta that are easy prey to to those in the drug underworld. Let's get rid of the druggies and protect the poor, as well as everyone else. However, no man is poor that has his health, his family, a clear conscience, a loving and forgiving heart, true friends,and God by his side. To me, he is richer than a man with vaults full of gold, but who lives feeling guilty in solitude with no friends, no family, and no God.

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