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Ex-Little Rock DEA supervisor sentenced to over 11 years in prison for accepting bribes

by Dale Ellis | May 12, 2022 at 3:37 a.m.

A former Little Rock-based Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison Wednesday for accepting bribes from a known drug trafficker in exchange for providing information that would help the trafficker continue to distribute cocaine, heroin and other controlled substances in Arkansas and other states.

Nathan Koen, 45, was charged by a federal grand jury in November 2019 with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and one count of bribery of a public official. In August 2021, he pleaded guilty to bribery in exchange for dismissal of the drug-related charge.

During the sentencing hearing, which took place over two days beginning April 6 and concluded Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller found that Koen accepted bribes from a known, large-scale drug trafficker for the purpose of helping facilitate a drug conspiracy involving multiple kilogram quantities of methamphetamine.

The drug trafficker, known as "Paco," and his brother, "Stewie," testified last month that they believed Koen had provided sensitive, law-enforcement information, which Paco used to avoid detection by law enforcement and run his drug organization.

Paco testified that he told FBI agents he had been in custody on federal drug charges in 2013-2014 when another inmate suggested he contact Koen and offer to work as an informant, which he did. After his case was resolved, he resumed distributing large amounts of drugs in Florida, California, Arkansas and elsewhere while making payments to Koen for protection.

After Koen and Paco agreed to meet in Las Vegas on Dec. 3, 2018, FBI agents equipped Paco with $9,000 cash and multiple audio recording devices. The two met on the sidewalk across from one hotel and walked together to another hotel where they entered a restroom to avoid casino cameras. Once inside, investigators said, Paco placed the cash in Koen's backpack and they left the hotel heading in different directions.

Koen was arrested as he stepped off the plane in Arkansas that night.

As Miller considered a sentence for Koen, he conferred with Benecia Moore and Chris Givens, the assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case, and with Koen's attorneys, Blake Hendrix and Annie Depper. Hendrix asked Miller to consider a downward variance to 10 years in prison, and Moore asked the judge to sentence Koen within the range of the guidelines.

"Typically, for public officials, those who have been elected, I've tended to take a fairly stiff view of people who are bribed or what have you," Miller said. "I think there's a little difference between law enforcement and people who are elected ... but I don't think this is a case where I'll agree to some big variance or departure where Mr. Koen doesn't serve time. He'll serve a significant amount of time, especially considering ... the testimony that I heard."

Miller referred to one witness who testified last month, saying "he was out of the dope game and you went and brought him back in."

"He was down there operating his body shop or something," Miller said, "then you got him and put him back out on the street."

At the same time, Miller said, the recommended guideline sentence of 135 to 168 months in prison, on the surface, struck him as excessive.

"My initial thought was this is a 10-year case," the judge said, especially considering the difficulties that convicted law enforcement officers face in prison.

"My first thought is though: What kind of message am I sending if I give somebody who sells his office a variance downward?" Miller asked. "So, the question is, what amount of time is appropriate?

"This is not the kind of case where you slip a cop $20 to look the other way," he continued. "This is a little more egregious."

Moore said Koen's actions directly affected at least two large-scale drug trafficking investigations the U.S. Attorney's office was involved in with the DEA.

"His actions affected cases being investigated by his own people," Moore said. "What he did betrayed his own agency."

Hendrix argued that investigative records showed Koen never actually accessed the records he was accused of providing to Paco, and that the information provided by Koen was no good.

"The search proved he never accessed those databases," Hendrix argued. "He basically played Paco."

In announcing the sentence, Miller said Koen's conduct went beyond simply accepting bribes.

"From what I heard from the witnesses, you were kind of ginning them up to do the work," he said. "It wasn't just that they came to you."

In addition to 135 months in prison, Miller ordered Koen to spend two years on supervised release after he leaves prison.

U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross praised the cooperation between federal agencies that brought Koen's activities to light.

"Koen's despicable corruption betrayed the public trust, his partners at the DEA and betrayed his oath," Ross said. "Public corruption by law enforcement is a special kind of evil that sabotages the public trust and the rule of law. Mr. Koen's crimes were expertly investigated by the FBI with the full assistance of the DEA so that we can make clear to Mr. Koen and anyone like him that these crimes will result in severe punishment."

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