ST. LOUIS - An officer on a north St. Louis County drug task force has admitted to accepting $5,000 in cash bribes and tipping off a suspect in a federal money laundering investigation.
Scott William Haenel, 38, was a Bridgeton police officer detached to the North County Municipal Enforcement Group, a regional drug task force. He pleaded guilty Wednesday in St. Louis federal court to one count of accepting bribes and one count of obstructing justice.
It was the first release of details in the public corruption case, as Haenel waived indictment in favor of a quick plea before a mostly empty courtroom.
Haenel spoke only to tell U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel that he understood the proceedings and to offer his guilty pleas. Upon leaving the courtroom, Haenel and his attorney declined comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reginald Harris said agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations started investigating Haenel for public corruption in November 2010. They watched as Haenel met several times with a man only identified in court as R.O.
R.O., who was cooperating with authorities, gave Haenel $5,000 cash during one of those meetings, in a Target parking lot in Bridgeton on Jan.11.
Haenel admitted that in exchange for the payment, he agreed to assist R.O. by covering up a money laundering scheme involving proceeds from a drug trafficking operation in north St. Louis County.
Haenel also admitted to giving R.O. a heads up on Jan. 21 when he learned that Drug Enforcement Administration agents and police were going to try to search R.O.'s St. Charles residence, where they believed a large amount of the illegal cash was stashed. Haenel told R.O. to get out of the house and clear it of the money.
R.O. has not been charged, Harris said.
Bridgeton Police Chief Donald Hood said Haenel joined the department in 2002 and was detached to the drug task force in 2007, essentially working for the task force. Hood said there was no indication that any of Haenel's cases before 2007 were compromised.
"Absolutely not," he said. "There was no indication of wrongdoing."
Hood said Haenel has since resigned and the indictment speaks for itself. He said Bridgeton police cooperated with the federal investigation.
"It's not only the FBI's responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct, it's the responsibility of all law enforcement and we take these matters very seriously," he said.
Haenel could face up to 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines at sentencing July 7. The sentencing range is higher than typical because of Haenel's position in law enforcement.
Harris said after the hearing: "This just shows we take seriously the notion that police officers are not above the law and when officers break the law, the onus is on us to make sure they accept responsibility for what they did."
Harris declined to comment on whether the public corruption investigation extended beyond Haenel. He also declined to further describe the suspected drug trafficking operation.