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Press Release

Former Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Pleads Guilty to His Role in a Drug Trafficking and Procurement Fraud Conspiracies

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Michael Kenneth Cox, age 49, pled guilty to two federal charges related to his role in a drug trafficking conspiracy and a procurement mail and wire fraud conspiracy. Cox, who was employed by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) from 1996 until he retired as the head of the drug unit in 2018, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, and marijuana. Cox also pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit procurement wire and mail fraud with his co-defendant Christopher Worth in connection with contracts his business received from WCSO. When sentenced, Cox faces up to 20 years for each charge.

“As a leader of the Drug Unit, Cox’s job was to put drug traffickers behind bars, not go into business with them,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “We trust law enforcement to uphold the law, but a rare few choose to abuse their positions with criminal side-hustles. Corruption like this undermines our institutions, cheats taxpayers, and endangers the public.  The people of Eastern North Carolina, and all the honest cops who put their lives on the line, deserve better and we won’t stand for it.”

"Law enforcement officers are entrusted with an incredible responsibility to serve our communities and ensure justice. Anyone who takes advantage of their position for personal gain or in persistence of criminal activity must and will be held accountable. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will continue to root out public corruption on behalf of the vast majority of hard-working officers who carry out their duties honestly and honorably," said FBI Special Agent in Charge, Robert M. DeWitt.

According to court documents and other information presented in Court, while Cox was a sheriff’s deputy, he helped various drug traffickers operating in Wayne County evade charges. In one instance, he intercepted a drug trafficker who had made a purchase from the target of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation. Rather than arrest the trafficker, he seized the drugs and reimbursed him $2000 for the sale, claiming it had been a planned, controlled purchase. Even after his retirement, Cox continued his relationships with the drug traffickers, facilitating the purchase of drugs for other individuals. In addition, Cox was engaged in a scheme in which contracts for upfits of WCSO vehicles were steered to a business owned by Cox, and employing co-defendant Worth, regardless of whether Cox’s company provided such work at the lowest price as required by the Wayne County procurement requirements. Cox was indicted in August of 2023.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after U.S. Chief District Judge Richard E. Myers II accepted the plea. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are investigating the case and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dennis Duffy and Nick Hartigan are prosecuting the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:23-CR-260.

Updated March 27, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Public Corruption