Kalb found guilty on drug, extortion charges

Posted: December 14, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
Updated: December 14, 2012 at 1:10 p.m.

— A former police officer charged in a broad investigation into corruption and drug trafficking in eastern Arkansas has been found guilty of extortion and attempt to possess a controlled substance.

After returning Friday for a second day of deliberations, the jury in the trial of former Helena-West Helena police officer Marlene Kalb came back to the courtroom about 11:15 a.m. with its verdicts.

Kalb was taken into custody shortly after U.S. District Judge James Moody read the verdicts.

Randy Coleman, head of the FBI in Arkansas, afterward called it a bittersweet moment in the "landmark case" dubbed Operation Delta Blues.

"It's bitter in the fact that yet another sworn law enforcement officer, the fifth in this case, has been convicted of misusing her position in exchange for a couple payments worth $500," Coleman said. "It's sweet in that it shows what we can do as a team in addressing public corruption, law enforcement corruption, violent gang and drug activity."

Kalb convicted on drug, extortion counts

The only police officer of five indicted last year in the Operation Delta Blues investigation into corruption and drug trafficking in eastern Arkansas was convicted Friday on drug and extortion charges. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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Although Kalb was convicted of two counts each of extortion and attempted drug possession, the jury found her innocent of two counts of money laundering.

Kalb's attorney, John Wesley Hall, said afterward that he intends to file motions to vacate the convictions because of insufficient evidence.

"I think the money laundering acquittal is inconsistent with the extortion conviction because they depend on the same facts, the exact same facts," he said. "... It kind of shows an inconsistency. But jury verdicts are allowed to be inconsistent."

Christopher Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said the Delta Blues investigation is "continuing and ongoing." He said he believes corruption in the area is improving.

"You probably have to ask the people that live there and do business there on a daily basis," he said when asked of the state of the Delta today. "I can tell you from my perspective, I think things are better from where we got involved and I think they will continue to get better. Are they where they need to be? Probably not, but we are working on that."

Kalb was one of five law enforcement officers and more than 70 people overall indicted last year in the federal probe into drug trafficking centered in Helena but extending into neighboring states.

Prosecutors said Kalb on two occasions accepted cash after escorting a felon through Helena while he transported what she believed to be a load of cocaine. The felon was working undercover as an informant for the FBI and police recorded conversations between him and Kalb before and after the escorts.

Those recordings, along with surveillance footage and images, were presented to the jury during the four-day trial before U.S. District Court James Moody in Little Rock.

Four other officers indicted last year have been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty. Trial is pending for a sixth, a probation officer indicted in September.