Two Nassau County police officers accused of helping an alleged drug dealer distribute marijuana pleaded not guilty Monday at their arraignments in Suffolk County court in Riverhead.
Officers Erik Skoglund, 28, of Port Jefferson, and Karen Ernst, 32, of Bethpage, allowed Daniel Caceres, 29, to ship 11 packages of marijuana, totaling more than 100 pounds, to their homes from Jan. 26 to June 6, according to the indictment.
Sometimes Skoglund delivered the drugs to Caceres and other times he arranged for Caceres to pick them up from his home, the indictment said.
On Feb. 8, when Caceres went to Skoglund’s home on Greene Avenue to pick up a 12-pound, 8-ounce package of marijuana, he left $200 in cash in Skoglund’s mailbox “as payment for the acceptance of package,” according to the indictment. On June 6, authorities intercepted a package that they said contained more than 10 pounds of marijuana at Skoglund's home.
The officers and Caceres were among 11 people arrested and charged in connection with a drug distribution ring allegedly operated by Caceres, said Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini. Caceres and all the co-defendants, except one, have been arraigned on various charges in connection to the alleged drug operation.
Skoglund, who joined the Nassau County Police Department on Oct. 16, 2015, was arraigned Monday on the following charges: conspiracy in the fourth degree, attempted criminal possession of marijuana in the first degree, and criminal possession of a controlled substance, testosterone, in the seventh degree. If he is found guilty, Skoglund faces up to four years in prison.
Ernst, who was arraigned on a single charge of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, faces up to a year in jail. She joined the NCPD on June 2, 2016.
Skoglund and Ernst, who prosecutors said were dating, declined to comment as they left the courthouse Monday. Skoglund and Caceres were high school friends, according to Skoglund’s attorney, John LoTurco of Huntington.
“There is no relationship between my client and any other co-defendants, except, for Daniel and Karen,” said LoTurco, referring to the others eight defendants charged in connection with the alleged drug ring.
Ernst’s attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said his client steadfastly maintains her innocence.
“Although this is a very difficult process, Officer Ernst is thankful for the overwhelming support she is receiving from her family, friends and colleagues,” Griffin said.
Suffolk County Court Judge Timothy Mazzei allowed Skoglund and Ernst to remain free while they await their trials. The judge ordered the pair to return to court on Aug. 15 for a status conference.
Both cops have been suspended without pay.
Ernst had worked for the NYPD before joining the force in Nassau, according to her attorney.
Skoglund’s father is a retired NYPD cop, according to Skoglund’s attorney.
During the joint investigation of Caceres, the Suffolk County police department, working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, discovered an alleged plot by Caceres and a third cop, Nassau County Police Officer Bruce Moeller, to commit robberies at an Islandia casino.
Moeller and Caceres are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Riverhead on that case.