2008-04-05 / News

Buckeye Lake Police officers sold weapons to Cortez

By Scott Rawdon

BUCKEYE LAKE - Members of the Buckeye Lake Police Department sold several firearms to former Buckeye Lake Village Council member John Cortez, according to a report compiled Licking County Sheriff's Office detective Chris Barbuto.

Cortez is currently charged with 23 counts of unlawful sexual contact with minors, one count of supplying cocaine to minors, and one count of unlawfully possessing firearms. When Cortez purchased the weapons, he had a prior felony conviction from a 1991 burglary and was not legally authorized to possess weaponry. Cortez purchased the guns prior to his current charges.

Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp said Monday that none of the officers were aware of Cortez' prior felony conviction. "Based on the investigation, the officers involved did not know about the priors," said Thorp, who added that there will be no further investigation into the matter. "I think a lot of people didn't know (Cortez had a prior conviction)." Thorp said there was no wrongdoing on the officer's part because they did not know about Cortez' prior felony.

According to Barbuto's report, Buckeye Lake Captain James Hanzey sold Cortez a .357 Smith and Wesson magnum, a .44 caliber magnum, a Mini Rugar Model 14, two .22 rifles,and an AR 15 with eight 320 round magazines. The report states that OfficerJeff Vermatin sold Cortez a .40 Caliber Carr gun.

Hanzey said Wednesday that he was ill when the sheriff's department raided Cortez' home Nov. 8, 2007. He said he learned of the raid on the television news where he heard Cortez was charged with unlawful weapons possession after officersfound three guns at his residence. Hanzey said he contacted Barbuto immediately and informed him that he and another Buckeye Lake officerhad sold weapons to Cortez, and a member of the Licking County Sheriff's Department was also involved in one of the sales.

He reiterated he was unaware of Cortez' prior felony and said it's illegal to run a LEADS report (the electronic system police use to identify prior arrest records) on anyone for a personal transaction. Since Cortez held multiple terms on council, Hanzey said everyone assumed he had no prior felonies. According to Barbuto's report, Hanzey cooperated during a December 4 interview with Barbuto.

Buckeye Lake Police Chief Ron Small said none of the weapons sold to Cortez were ever in police evidence, nor did the village own any of the weapons at any time. All were privately owned. Small said the village handed the investigation into Cortez' current charges over to the sheriff's department because Buckeye Lake officersknew Cortez for several years.

Buckeye Lake Mayor Frank Foster said that until Cortez was arrested in November, neither he nor the police department, or any member of the village council was aware that Cortez had a prior felony.

After police raided Cortez' home Nov. 8, Cortez was charged with illegally possessing weapons. At that time, Cortez had no additional charges and was released on his own recognizance.

Cortez was indicted on the rest of the charges Nov. 29, when he fledbefore being served with a warrant for his arrest. Cortez was a fugitive from justice for nearly two months before he was apprehended in Myrtle Beach, SC. Feb. 13. He is currently awaiting trial without bond after pleading not guilty to all charges.

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