Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
“Congratulations Deputy Josh Marchand. You’ve already done a great job for this office. … We are glad to have you here and look forward to what’s ahead for you.”
The December 2016 post on the Otero County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page showed Marchand during graduation ceremonies at the Southeastern New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. At age 36, he was following the storied career of his late father, Al Marchand, a retired Alamogordo police lieutenant who was the only New Mexican to die in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Even though Josh Marchand wasn’t state-certified during his first year on the job, records show the deputy was responsible for busting at least 35 alleged drug traffickers as an undercover detective in the Otero County narcotics unit. Some of the covert drug buys occurred at his Alamogordo tattoo parlor.
But now Marchand’s law enforcement career has gone bust.
His 35 trafficking cases, involving mostly methamphetamines, have been dismissed by the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office after some 20 suspects accused Marchand of using methamphetamine or other drugs with them when he worked undercover, said District Attorney John P. Sugg of Alamogordo.
Defense attorneys raised allegations of entrapment, and Marchand wouldn’t take a polygraph test. That fostered doubts about whether he would testify as an essential witness if the cases went to trial, Sugg said.
The case dismissals came after more than a year of an FBI investigation and at least six federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information from Otero County and the Law Enforcement Academy. The FBI wouldn’t acknowledge an inquiry last week, and it’s unclear if it has concluded.
Otero County Sheriff Benny House told the Journal that the FBI was also looking into other issues beyond Marchand’s actions, including “false” allegations about the sheriff himself. To date, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the inquiry.
“It’s ugly down here,” House said. “I haven’t done anything illegal. They (the FBI) are mad at me because of a bunch of false reports.”
Earlier this year, the FBI uncovered conflicting statements Marchand gave about his drug use before joining the southern New Mexico sheriff’s agency in 2016, according to court dismissal records.
Marchand, 37, couldn’t be reached by the Journal for comment last week.
But Sheriff House on Friday defended Marchand’s actions with alleged drug traffickers as ethical and legal. After learning that Marchand simulated smoking methamphetamine during one undercover assignment, House said he had him take a drug test, which came back negative.
House said the Otero County manager ordered Marchand terminated, effective July 18, because of issues related to inconsistencies in his employment records.
House, whose term as sheriff ends Dec. 31, said he may be a defense witness for Marchand’s appeal of his termination.
“I don’t think he wants his job back. I think he wants to clear his name,” House told the Journal. “He did great work, and I’m proud of him. I love him to death.”
Marchand took to social media last week to deny the allegations, but his comments were deleted by Friday morning.
“I didn’t do drugs with all those dope dealers he (DA Sugg) just released back into the streets!” Marchand wrote on his Facebook page. “This justice system is a joke. Good lie though it worked.” He contended that others from his undercover team were nearby during his drug buys from suspects.
“And to the supposed 20 other defendants I apparently did drugs with magically while my team was ready (sic) present I’d like to see the proof! Oh wait, there isn’t any because it never happened.”
“Take a lie detector test,” stated one person who responded to his post.
“I am following the advice of my attorney,” he replied.
Victim of 9/11
Al Marchand retired after 21 years as an Alamogordo police officer, opting for a new career as a flight attendant. His Boston to Los Angeles United Airlines flight 175 was hijacked and was the second plane to be flown into the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Several of us at the (Otero County Sheriff’s Office) were lucky enough to work with Al and call him our friend. His loss is even more significant to us this year because his son, Josh, has followed in his dad’s footsteps in law enforcement,” said a September 2017 Facebook post by the Otero County Sheriff’s Office. “May Al’s family and friends know that we will never forget that tragic day and we will never forget the impact Al had on so many people.”
Todd Holmes, an Alamogordo defense attorney, had nine clients whose drug trafficking charges were dismissed last week. Though he had made the drug buys months earlier, most of Josh Marchand’s 35 cases were brought as part of a massive drug bust announced in May 2017.
“In Otero County, there’s a lot of undercover operations, and every couple of years they always have a press release that they arrested 70 or 80 people. I was born and raised in Alamogordo,” Holmes told the Journal, “And throughout all the raids, this is the first time there’s been a huge problem like this.
“I had a handful of clients and at least half of them had similar stories, and I don’t think they all got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s cook up this story.’ ”
Holmes said his clients told him that Marchand “would take us in the bathroom in his tattoo shop because there’s no cameras in there and then we’d go get high. And then later on he’d be like, ‘Can I get some?’ ”
One defendant contended he saw Marchand go into the bathroom with a methamphetamine pipe and saw smoke coming from the mirror – an allegation Marchand on Facebook said is wrong because he was smoking a cigarette at the time.
Holmes said he has known the younger Marchand for years.
“Josh was a good kid growing up and he ran a tattoo shop and I think he was kind of happy at the prospect of being a law enforcement officer just to maybe fill some of those issues with the dad passing away.”
Holmes said he has “a lot of sympathy for all sides because I’ve known Josh for a long, long time and so I do feel sorry for the situation he was in. Sometimes, you can’t put folks like that into the middle of all this with meth all around.”
Under state law, new officers can work up to 12 months without undergoing the 16-week training course at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and obtaining certification.
Hiring agencies are responsible for background investigations of their staff, including drug testing and disclosure of prior illegal drug use.
Josh Marchand started at the Sheriff’s Office in June 2016. To avoid violating the certification requirement, he worked at the courthouse for several months before attending the law enforcement academy last fall, House said.
Sheriff House said Marchand, once on the job, was instructed how to handle undercover narcotics assignments and volunteered to use his tattoo parlor for potential drug deals.
The FBI found that Marchand had revealed on one Otero County employment application that he used “dangerous drugs” a few times, as recently as 2011. But on his law enforcement academy questionnaire, he denied all drug use, except for marijuana a few times in 2001, according to the DA dismissal statements.
The FBI also had difficulty obtaining his Sheriff’s Office employment applications.
Initially, the FBI was told the application was lost. He filed a second application in August 2017 at the Sheriff’s Office, but it wasn’t turned over to the FBI until this April, the dismissal notice said. Then the Otero County Human Resources Office had Marchand file an employment application in May of this year. But after completing the form, he returned to the HR office and asked to make changes.
“The portion on the application regarding prior drug use had been altered when amended and contained numerous scratched through answers,” the DA’s dismissal said. “The scratched through answers are also inconsistent” with the prior applications, the notice said.
DA Sugg said he doesn’t know whether Marchand used illegal drugs with suspects.
“If he had submitted to a polygraph examination,” Sugg told the Journal, “we would have had more confidence and perhaps we would have pursued the matter further.”
For his part, Marchand wrote on Facebook last week, “What a blessed day it is! Gotta love my haters. I’ll pray for all of you.”