A former sheriff pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he took part in a scheme to sell drugs seized from criminals along with 12 former and current officers.

Former sheriff H. Franklin Cassell was arraigned in U.S. District Court along with three Henry County sheriff's deputies, all of whom pleaded not guilty in the racketeering conspiracy. Arraignments for the remaining defendants were set through Wednesday.

Cassell was glad to get moving with his defense, said his lawyer, John Lichtenstein.

The indictment returned Oct. 31 said Cassell, 68, looked the other way as officers sold drugs seized in criminal investigations and stole guns and other evidence. He is charged with impeding federal agents' investigation and money laundering.

Charges against the other defendants include racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution, weapons counts, obstruction of justice and perjury.

Since 1998, prosecutors said, cocaine, steroids, marijuana and other drugs seized by the sheriff's department were resold to the public.

Cassell earned more than $90,000 a year as sheriff in the economically distressed county along the North Carolina line that was once a textile and furniture hub. He had been sheriff since 1992, and previously had a career with the Virginia State Police.

Cassell planned to take a leave of absence until the case was resolved, but announced his retirement two weeks ago after county officials complained that his situation was hindering department operations.