A former Little Rock-based DEA agent pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to accepting bribes in 2018 from a known drug trafficker in exchange for providing information to that trafficker that would help him continue to distribute cocaine, heroin and other controlled substances in Arkansas and other states.
Agent Nathan Koen, 45, was arrested in Little Rock in December 2018 after he got off an airplane from Las Vegas, where FBI agents watched him accept a $9,000 cash bribe from the drug trafficker who was working as an informant for investigators.
Koen appeared with his attorneys, Blake Hendrix and Annie Depper of Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, who joined the proceedings remotely.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benecia Moore described the evidence investigators collected against Koen, including recordings and phone messages from the agent's 2018 trip to Las Vegas where he met the "large-scale" drug trafficker, referred to during the hearing as "FB", in a bathroom in the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino to exchange the money.
The prosecution said Koen had known "FB" since 2013 when the drug trafficker was arrested in Florida for conspiracy to distribute heroin. Koen was based in Jacksonville, Fla., at the time. The agent, who worked as a group supervisor for the Drug Enforcement Administration, moved to Little Rock in 2016 from the Jacksonville, Fla., field office.
Koen joined the DEA in 2002.
"FB" became an informant for Koen, and after his case was resolved in Florida, he resumed distributing "large amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine in the Florida area and later in California, Arkansas and elsewhere," Moore said.
"FB" told investigators that he made several payments to Koen in exchange for information about which traffickers were being monitored by the DEA and other details related to DEA investigations that would protect the drug trafficker from being caught.
At the end of November 2018, Koen took administrative leave for several days, traveling to Las Vegas to meet with "FB" on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, on the Las Vegas Strip in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino.
"Agents equipped FB with multiple audio recording devices and $9,000 concealed in a brown paper bag," Moore said. "After meeting on the sidewalk, Koen and 'FB' walked to the Paris Las Vegas Hotel ... into a bathroom out of site of casino video cameras, and 'FB' placed $9,000 into Koen's backpack at Koen's request."
"Then they left the hotel and headed in different directions," Moore said. "Koen advised 'FB' to get rid of all of his phones and change his address."
In a debriefing with the FBI, the drug trafficker said that before he placed the money in Koen's backpack in the casino bathroom, Koen asked him, "Did you make this worth it?"
"FB" said he replied: "Come on man, you know I always make it worth it for you."
Koen then replied, "I know."
After his arrest, Koen told investigators that in addition to bribes in the form of cash payments, the drug trafficker would provide the agent with names or phone numbers of "potential narcotics customers in order to ascertain whether they were being tracked by law enforcement," Moore said.
Miller said Koen could face up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervision after release for pleading guilty to one count of bribery of a public official.
A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.