ST. LOUIS – Sheriff Raymond M. Martin has been the law for nearly 20 years in a struggling southern Illinois county. But federal prosecutors say he's been breaking it lately by peddling pounds of pot, some seized by his own department, often in uniform and from his patrol vehicle.
Authorities on Monday led away a handcuffed Martin, 46, from his small Shawneetown office after his arrest on federal drug trafficking charges accusing him of supplying a dealer he threatened to kill when that man said he wanted out. The Gallatin County sheriff also allegedly pledged to use his authority to shut down rival drug traffickers.
"It's almost beyond belief," said Doug Maier, the sheriff in neighboring White County. Maier called Martin "a pretty low-key guy."
He continued, "Obviously, there was a different side that I've never observed."
Martin was jailed pending a Wednesday detention hearing on three counts of marijuana distribution and two counts of carrying a firearm, his service weapon, while trafficking drugs. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
A woman who answered his home telephone refused to comment, and Martin's court-appointed public defender did not immediately return messages.
Martin's job status was unclear Tuesday. Calls to Gallatin County Chairman Randy Drone rang unanswered, while calls to the sheriff's department rolled over to a neighboring dispatch center, which regularly answers calls when no deputies are in Martin's office. No one would say the exact size of Martin's department, other than to say it's small.
Martin's popularity in the county surrounding Shawneetown — boasting little more than a courthouse, a couple of convenience stores and Rudy's barbecue restaurant — swept the Democrat to re-election four times since he took office in 1990.
A criminal complaint accuses him of distributing more than two pounds of marijuana between April 27 and May 11. But an affidavit by Glenn Rountree, an investigator with the Drug Enforcement Administration, suggests Martin's dealings were many times that total.
In a blow-by-blow account painting a picture of a good cop gone bad, Rountree wrote that Martin hatched a marijuana-dealing scheme in November with the drug dealer who later got cold feet.
At that time, Martin handed the dealer, unidentified in court papers, two pounds of pot and asked if the man could "get rid of that" for the sheriff, who promised he'd use his power to protect him if he ever got caught selling. If the dealer didn't comply, Rountree wrote, Martin said he could "make up" a crime against him.
From then until early last month, Martin brought 1- or 2-pound amounts of marijuana on average once every couple of weeks to a rural, secluded meeting spot, Rountree wrote. But the sheriff twice brought 10 pounds and brought 20 pounds another time, according to the affidavit.
The meetings between the two were arranged by cell phone, with the dealer using vague code words Martin supplied to confuse possible eavesdroppers, including investigators, Rountree wrote.
The dealer grew unsettled over time and wanted out, but Martin would have none of that, Rountree wrote. At least twice, the sheriff pulled his service revolver and insisted emphatically to the dealer that making him "disappear" would be "that easy," according to the affidavit.
Rountree suggested the twitchy dealer went to investigators April 9. Over the next several weeks, authorities taped the dealer's conversations with Martin and tracked the sheriff's county-issued Ford Expedition.
At least once, Rountree alleged, the sheriff gave the informant marijuana seeds, saying he could pare his debt to the sheriff by growing pot plants for him.
And the sheriff dispensed advice, cautioning the man that it'd be "silly" for the dealer to get drunk or use pills and "mess it up" because "we got a good thing going."
"(You) won't even have to work and stuff," Rountree said Martin once told the snitch.
Such profit could be particularly attractive in Gallatin County, where the population has slowly eroded in recent decades as many of the region's coal mines closed. Its 9 percent unemployment rate is typical in the region. The median household income, according to 2000 Census Bureau figures, is $26,118.
Martin's county salary was not immediately available, but he received his $6,500 annual stipend from the state this month.
The area received statewide attention in 2005, when a story by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald noted that the tiny county with little violent crime was getting more homeland security funding per person — more than $300,000 — than any other in Illinois.
The article noted Martin spent "most days battling a thriving methamphetamine trade."
Allegations that Martin himself was dabbling in drugs left locals rattled, in many cases leaving them publicly reticent Tuesday. Still, many there remained in Martin's camp.
"I thought the world of that boy," said Roberta Tarrence, a 78-year-old widow with a quilting business near the county courthouse. "I've known him all of his life, and I know he was a good sheriff."