A sheriff and 12 current and former uniformed employees were charged in a racketeering indictment unsealed Thursday that claims drugs and guns seized from criminals were filtered back to the community.

A U.S. Postal Service employee, a probation officer and five citizens also were charged in the 48-count indictment. The charges include racketeering conspiracy, firearms charges, narcotics distribution, obstruction of justice and perjury.

"It is disgraceful corruption," said John Brownlee, U.S. attorney for western Virginia.

William R. Reed, one of the indicted citizens, told investigators he was a middleman in the distribution ring and paid a sheriff's sergeant to use a house he owned for drug distribution, according to the indictment.

Reed began cooperating after he was arrested last year on charges of possession with intent to distribute narcotics.

The indictment alleges that cocaine, steroids, marijuana, other narcotics and guns seized by the Henry County Sheriff's Office have been sold to citizens like Reed for distribution since 1998.

Sheriff Frank Cassell was charged with impeding the investigation by the FBI and federal drug enforcement agents and money laundering. He was in custody and faced an afternoon bond hearing Thursday.

Fourteen others also were in custody and police had been in contact with the rest of those indicted except for one defendant who was at large, Brownlee said.

The Henry County Sheriff's Office declined to comment. A sheriff's dispatcher referred questions to state police; an officer who answered the phone there referred calls to the U.S. attorney's office.

Cassell has been sheriff since 1992 in the rural county of about 58,000 residents along the North Carolina line.

The region's textile and furniture industries have been in decline and its unemployment rate is higher than the state average. The area is best known for the Martinsville Speedway, where NASCAR races are run twice a year.

The sheriff's office has 122 employees, according to its Web site.