A war of words has erupted between state drug officials and a Kentucky prosecutor over the investigation of an NFL player who last year received two pounds of marijuana shipped to his home from Northern California.
Officials in the two states are at odds over the amount of marijuana that was found at the Crestview Hills, Ky., home of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, 26. Rob Sanders, the Kenton commonwealth's attorney who originally charged Simpson with a count of marijuana trafficking of more than 8 ounces, said a potentially broader investigation was stymied when California drug officials publicly disclosed the case last September. California officials disagree.
"Normally in drug trafficking cases, we hope to work up the supply chain to catch the 'bigger fish,' " Sanders wrote in an e-mail. "The (California) press conference alerted the world that law enforcement was investigating Mr. Simpson. Any time law enforcement loses the element of surprise, it compromises officer safety, especially in undercover operations."
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A package with two pounds of marijuana was delivered Sept. 20 to Simpson’s home, where an additional amount – a little under a pound – was found, along with related paraphernalia in various locations and containers, Sanders wrote.
“Anyone who maintains otherwise is welcome to fly here and weigh it themselves,” Sanders wrote. “I have no idea where the folks in (California) got their information but it was obviously bad. The only explanation I have for this ‘discrepancy’ is that (California) law enforcement simply did not know what they were talking about.”
Earlier police reports indicated that an additional six pounds of marijuana were found at Simpson’s home.
The state Department of Justice says that information came from law enforcement in Kentucky.
The investigation began in California with the Mountain and Valley Marijuana Investigation Team, a Sacramento-based task force of federal and state agencies, but was handed off to local police in Kentucky and the Cincinnati-North Kentucky Airport Interdiction team. Authorities in Kentucky who conducted the search and arrests relayed information back to state investigators, said state Department of Justice spokeswoman Michelle Gregory.
“Information regarding evidence located in the residence was given to us by the Cincinnati North Kentucky Airport Interdiction Team after the search warrant was served, as is standard in parcel interdiction cases,” Gregory said in a statement. “Officer safety and public safety are always paramount and at the forefront of operations.”
Simpson pleaded guilty earlier this month in Kentucky's Kenton Circuit Court to a count of a prohibited act related to controlled substances. The charge brings a penalty of one to five years behind bars.
In a plea agreement, Sanders recommended Simpson serve 60 days of a three-year sentence in county jail, with work-release privileges and 200 hours of community service. Simpson also could argue for less jail time, but the remainder of the time, he would be on probation.
Simpson’s attorney, Burr Travis, did not return calls for comment.
According to the plea agreement, the prosecutor amended charges for various reasons. Simpson did not have a criminal history; the trafficking evidence was "strictly constructive," or inferred; and there was no evidence of specific marijuana sales or income. He also cooperated with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agreement said.
A DEA spokesman in Detroit, Rich Isaacson, would not comment on whether Simpson cooperated with the agency or acted as an informant.
“We did assist in the early stages of the investigation at the request of the local prosecutor,” he said.
Sanders declined to comment further on Simpson's cooperation, but said the DEA's participation in the case "ended shortly after California law enforcement exposed the investigation." When asked if the investigation's exposure caused the DEA to lose interest, Sanders responded: "Draw your own conclusions. I can't comment."
Sanders previously said that as far as he is concerned, the investigation ends with Simpson. State and federal officials have not said whether they would seek charges against Simpson in California.
California Watch reporter Michael Montgomery contributed to this report.