Two former officers with a rural sheriff's department pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that they took part in a scheme involving their boss and 10 colleagues to sell drugs seized from criminals.

The pair were among 20 people indicted in October in the investigation of corruption and racketeering conspiracy.

Former deputy David Allan King pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and drug conspiracy. James Alden Vaught, a former sergeant, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

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King faces up to 40 years in prison and Vaught 20 years, but the sentences could be lowered if they testify in other cases.

Henry County Sheriff H. Franklin Cassell stepped down after he was accused of looking the other way as officers sold drugs seized in criminal investigations and stole guns and other evidence for personal use and resale. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of impeding federal agents' investigation and money laundering.

Vaught, 33, pleaded guilty because he has "a contrite heart," said his attorney, Bruce Welch.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bondurant said Vaught, who agreed to cooperate with investigators, was paid by the ring for use of a house he owned for drug distribution.

King, 49, was once in charge of the vice unit and had been a school resource officer with the department. Bondurant said King falsified destruction orders for drugs seized by the department and he and other officers then resold them.

Charges against the other defendants include racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, weapons counts, obstruction of justice and perjury. One other former deputy and one of the seven civilians charged in the case have pleaded guilty.

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