Veteran Seattle police Officer Alex Chapackdee is accused of helping his brother-in-law and others smuggle at least 100 kilograms of marijuana to the East Coast. In return, Chapackdee was paid $10,000 a month, charges allege.
Federal prosecutors will ask that a suspended Seattle police officer charged with being part of a large-scale East Coast marijuana smuggling ring be held in jail pending trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida set a detention hearing Friday for Alex Chapackdee, who faces a mandatory-minimum five-year federal prison sentence — and perhaps up to 40 years — for his role in allegedly transporting hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Washington to Baltimore then driving back with boxes of cash. The court also could impose a fine of up to $5 million if he’s found guilty.
Chapackdee, a veteran Seattle police officer, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Seattle Monday afternoon along with three co-defendants named in a 15-page complaint unsealed Monday. He was arrested last Friday and suspended from duty without pay.
More than two dozens shocked friends and family members crowded Tsuchida’s courtroom during the brief hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vince Lombardi said the serious allegations and significant penalty prompted him to seek detention for all four defendants.
Tsuchida set a preliminary hearing for May 22, though that hearing will be canceled if the grand jury returns an indictment in the case.
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Chapackdee’s Seattle attorney, David Gehrke, said after the hearing that his client will fight the allegations. He went on to broadside a “dark ages” federal criminal-justice system where marijuana crimes remain on the books even though “it’s legal to use and possess in every state on the West Coast.”
Possession and use of recreational marijuana is a crime in Maryland.
Chapadackdee — part of a five-member community policing team in the police department’s South Precinct — is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana along with Tuan Van Le, Samath Khanhphontgphane and Phi Nguyen in what a federal task force is referring to as the “Tuan Van Le Drug Trafficking Network.”
The complaint alleges that Chapackdee and others were “regularly smuggling large amounts of marijuana” from Western Washington to the East Coast, including Baltimore. The charges also allege that cocaine was also involved, although none of the men is charged with a cocaine-related crime.
The charges detail six such trips since September, including one that involved meeting a known Baltimore drug dealer who was arrested minutes later in possession of nearly 200 pounds of marijuana. He later cooperated with police and said Le and the others had fronted him drugs and expected to be paid, according to the charges.
The charges said the investigation is ongoing. Lombardi declined to elaborate.
The department announced Chapackdee’s arrest last week. He has been placed on administrative leave without pay, police said.
On Monday, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole issued a statement about the arrest, calling Chapackdee’s conduct “disgraceful and disappointing.”
“While always disturbing to investigate one of our own, I am proud of the detectives and commanders who worked diligently on this case,” the statement said. “While he will have his due process in the courts, I hope these charges demonstrate to our community that SPD will not tolerate corrupt behavior in our ranks.”
According to the charging documents, Chapackdee, 44, is Tuan Van Le’s brother-in- law, and a confidential informant told agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency that Chapackdee provided the operation with “information on arrests and investigations that may be connected” to the operation.
Le, of Maple Valley, allegedly paid the officer $10,000 a month “to keep an eye on all of Tuan Van Le’s marijuana grow houses,” and used him as muscle to transport money collected on the East Coast back to Seattle.
The charges said he would be paid an additional $15,000 for every trip made back to Baltimore. Chapackdee and others would often travel from Seattle to Baltimore in the officer’s RV, prosecutors allege.
The investigation has been going on since 2015 and started in the FBI’s Washington, D.C., division, the charges say.
Chapackdee has been under surveillance since at least 2016, when the local FBI opened a public-corruption case in addition to the drug investigation. The investigation included the placement of a camera hidden on a utility pole outside his Seattle apartment and warrants to monitor his phone calls and track his cellphone signal, allowing the task force to track his trips back east.
According to the Seattle Police Department’s South Precinct web page, Chapackdee is assigned to a unit whose officers “focus on long-term and chronic problems in specific neighborhoods — problems that are often outside the bounds of regular patrol work.”
“It is their job to understand the ongoing problems and concerns of neighbors and businesses,” presumably including illegal drugs.
Seattle city payroll information indicates Chapackdee joined the SPD in 2000 and holds the rank of patrol officer.