Five people, including two employees of the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office, were arrested in an ongoing local, state and federal investigation of 48 pounds of cocaine missing from a trial evidence vault, authorities said Friday.
William Bates Colvin, 30, of Baton Rouge, remained in custody Friday on allegations of theft, distribution of cocaine in excess of 400 grams and malfeasance in office, according to the Sheriff’s Office. His bail was set at $30,000.
Also arrested was Clerk of Court’s Office employee Debra Vicknair Bell, 55, who was jailed on allegations of malfeasance in office, theft and distribution of cocaine in excess of 400 grams. Bell, of Maurepas, was released Friday on a $30,000 bond.
Colvin is the son of state District Judge Kay Bates. The judge was in tears Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t know anything about it until (District Attorney) Hillar Moore called this morning,” Bates said. “I don’t have any comment at all.”
Affidavits by Baton Rouge Police Department officers say Colvin and Bell recruited people, including Bell’s son, Colt Bell, to distribute some of the missing cocaine. Those affidavits also say Colvin admitted to investigators that he stole 15.4 pounds of cocaine from the clerk’s evidence vault in October.
Moore declined to discuss details of the ongoing investigation.
Moore said it is too early to know whether the missing cocaine will jeopardize any criminal appellate cases. Law enforcement agencies generally hold on to their evidence until trial. But the clerk’s office stores evidence after trial, during the time that appeals are ongoing.
“The likelihood is not great,” Moore said of the possibility the missing cocaine could scuttle appellate cases. “All that evidence has been weighed and tested” and recorded in trial transcripts, Moore added.
Clerk of Court Doug Welborn declined through staff members to comment on Colvin, Debra Bell or the missing cocaine.
“Due to an ongoing investigation, I am unable to comment at this time on this matter,” Welborn said in a written statement. “We are currently referring all inquiries to the Public Information Office of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and we will issue a further statement at the appropriate time.”
Baton Rouge Police Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said investigators “are actively looking for other individuals who may be involved. There are other arrests that are somewhat pending.”
McKneely would not comment further on those pending arrests, repeating: “It’s still under investigation.”
State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain confirmed that agency’s involvement in the case, but declined to comment further.
Police affidavits show the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also is involved in the investigation.
Also arrested and jailed Thursday were Colt Bell, 29, 7207 Comite Drive, Baker; Terrance Ramirez, 29, 6571 Kleinpeter Drive, Baton Rouge; and Deroy Joseph, 40, 2227 Edgewood Drive, Baton Rouge. All were booked with distribution of cocaine. Colt Bell and Ramirez also were booked on a count of extortion.
Colvin admitted in a written statement that he was temporarily entrusted with the key to the evidence vault in October, the police affidavit says. Colvin also admitted that after he stole 15.4 pounds of cocaine from the vault, he met his girlfriend, Debra Bell. The cocaine then was loaded into Bell’s vehicle.
The affidavit says Colvin and Bell drove to their Baton Rouge apartment at 624 Main St., No. 3, where they unloaded and concealed the cocaine. The affidavit says Bell also gave a statement that corroborated Colvin’s story.
Bell said she and Colvin were romantically involved, but that the romance ended the day Colvin took the cocaine. She also said she received money from Colvin that he earned from the distribution of cocaine, the affidavit says.
Bell added that when she was taking her belongings back to her residence at 147449 Cypress Road in Maurepas, she found one of the boxes contained 4.4 pounds of cocaine and $10,000 in cash, the affidavit says. Bell said she wrote Colvin a check for $5,000 and had her son pick up the cocaine to distribute, the affidavit says.
Bell also told authorities she knew that her son and Ramirez began extorting Colvin in order to get more cocaine from the evidence vault at the Clerk of Court’s Office, the affidavit says. She said Colvin paid Colt Bell and Ramirez $5,000 for their silence.
The affidavit also says an ongoing audit of the Clerk of Court’s office has revealed that 48 pounds of cocaine cannot be accounted for.
Another police affidavit says Joseph admitted paying $5,000 to Colvin and promising additional money for 7.7 pounds of cocaine. Joseph admitted selling the rest of the cocaine for $40,000, according to the affidavit. Joseph added he intended to pay Colvin some of that $40,000, but “was robbed by other drug dealers.”
Other court records show Joseph was sentenced to one year in prison in 1994 for possession of cocaine; five years in prison in 2000 for possession with intent to distribute marijuana; and four years in 2004 for possession of marijuana.
In a pending case, Joseph is accused of riot and resisting an officer with force or violence.
Colt Bell admitted that he distributed some of the stolen cocaine at his mother’s request, another affidavit says. Colt Bell also admitted that he and Ramirez extorted Colvin “for money and narcotics.”
Other court records show Colt Bell was sentenced in 2010 to one year in prison for drug possession. In 2004, Colt Bell was sentenced to six years in prison for marijuana distribution.
Ramirez denied personal involvement with cocaine stolen from the clerk’s evidence room, another affidavit says. The same affidavit says Ramirez admitted “extorting Colvin for money.”
Other court records show Ramirez was convicted in 2011 on three charges. He was sentenced to two years of probation for forgery; six months in Parish Prison for theft, and 90 days in Parish Prison for disturbing the peace and domestic battery abuse.
Friday night, Colt Bell remained in custody in lieu of a $35,000 bail.
Ramirez remained in custody in lieu of a $27,500 bail. Ramirez also is wanted on a bench warrant for bank fraud and forgery.
Joseph remained in custody in lieu of a bail of $30,000.