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Former\ Savannah-Chatham police officer pleads guilty to federal extortion charge
A former Savannah-Chatham police officer Friday pleaded guilty in federal court to extorting drugs and a cellphone at a downtown nightspot while working off-duty in uniform.
Floyd B. Sawyer Jr., 45, admitted to the extortion charge but stopped short of conceding he used force or intimidation in what he indicated was consensual conduct by the victim, an undercover FBI “source” posing as a drug dealer.
U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. expressed concern over Sawyer’s characterization and only “conditionally” accepted the plea pending completion of a pre-sentencing report by probation officers.
“Then I may or may not accept this plea,” Moore said.
Sawyer will remain on pre-trial release pending Moore’s decision or sentencing.
Sawyer, who joined the force April 26, 2002, was fired by Chief Willie Lovett on Sept. 14, 2010, for violation of procedures unrelated to the extortion investigation.
FBI Special Agent Tim Fehmel testified that Drug Enforcement Administration officials reported in late April 2010 that an off-duty Savannah-Chatham police officer, whom he identified as Sawyer, was conducting illegal activity at the club, Deja-Groove, 310 Williamson St.
Agents re-created the scenario using a “source” from Atlanta posing as a drug dealer, and on May 22, 2010, Sawyer removed the “dealer” from the dance floor of the club and took him to the kitchen, Fehmel said.
There Sawyer and a second officer, Sgt. Kelvin Frazier, “toyed” with the source over a 20-minute period, threatened him with arrest and took the fake Oxycontin and a cellphone, First Assistant U.S. Attorney James Durham told Moore.
Sawyer kept the cellphone later used by a relative, and the drugs wound up with a small-time drug dealer associated with Frazier, Durham said.
Frazier pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge he concealed Sawyer’s illegal activity in return for a nine-month prison sentence, based in part on his cooperation with investigators against Sawyer.
Sawyer admitted to Moore he took the cellphone but said he “didn’t have any knowledge of any drugs leaving that club at the time.”
He told Moore the victim willingly gave up the phone, stating “as long as he could go, we could keep everything.”
When Moore expressed concern over the characterization, Sawyer admitted he was in uniform and “jokingly or not” said his daughter would like to have the cellphone.
Moore pointed out the indictment accused Sawyer of using force and his official position against the victim.
“At no time did I threaten him, but I was in uniform,” Sawyer said, adding he felt his being in uniform did play a part in the victim relinquishing his property.
Moore, characterizing Sawyer’s comments that everything was consensual, said he was unpersuaded.
“I’ve got a problem with that,” he told Durham.
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