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'Unforgivable': Second local law enforcement agent arrested in FBI drug investigation

Federal complaint says Nassau Sgt. James Darrell Hickox sold illegal drugs and amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars as a DEA Task Force agent.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant is behind bars following an FBI investigation into illegal drug use and trafficking.

Nassau Sgt. James Darrell Hickox was arrested by the FBI Friday on charges of possession with intent to sell cocaine, MDMA and fentanyl. That same day, the FBI arrested Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joshua Earrey. As First Coast News was the first to report, the FBI claims Earrey bought oxycodone from his own confidential source while serving as a member of a local DEA Task Force.

Earrey and Hickox worked as DEA Task Force Agents at the same time, but it's not known if their arrests are related.

“His actions are unforgivable," Nassau Country Sheriff Bill Leeper in a statement when asked about Hickox. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure we are holding ourselves accountable… His poor judgement and criminal behavior should not reflect negatively on all the good men and women at NCSO.”

FHP referred requests for comment to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which has not yet responded.

Both officers have been fired from their respective agencies.

According to a federal complaint released Friday, the FBI found probable cause to arrest Earrey for being an "unlawful user or addict of controlled substances" in possession of a firearm. 

The complaint against Hickox was released late Monday. It says Hickox should be charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs including cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and more than 40 grams of a substance containing fentanyl.

The complaint says the FBI probe began after a confidential law enforcement source told agents that Hickox and another officer routinely stole money and drugs from suspects. The source said the officers frequently allowed the source and a criminal associate to take a portion of confiscated drugs and cash seizures "off the top." (The complaint does not name the second officer.)

The complaint says after taking some of the confiscated cocaine for themselves, the pair would cut it the remainder with other powdery substances, "later submitted to the DEA to retain the original weight of the drug buy." The complaint says they sometimes did this "outside the DEA office with the consent of Sgt. Hickox and the other officer." 

A search warrant executed March 10 at Hickox's home yielded large quantities of drugs, imitation drugs and cash in a detached garage with a sign reading "Gator's Man Cave." The complaint says FBI agents found "three shoeboxes containing cash," estimated at about $100,000, in a bedroom closet.

The complaint says bank records from 10 accounts linked to Hickox, his wife and child showed cash deposits of $86,962 between Jan. 2020 and Oct. 2022. Investigators also found the Hickoxes "ran up credit card bills in the amount of approximately $260,000" and that at least $238,000 of that was repaid in cash "at physical ATMs."

When investigators asked Hickox about the money, he said he didn't recall where all the money came from. The complaint says he claimed to have a gambling problem and said he borrowed money "from a lot of people," though "he did not recall it being that much money."

Hickox was booked Friday and held at the Duval County Jail. In federal court Monday, he was dressed in a white button down, with dark dress pants and shoes. He elected to return to custody, rather than asking for an immediate pretrial hearing. His attorney said they would wait until an indictment is filed, telling the judge there were still a lot of things "going on behind the scenes" in the case. 

Hickox is due back in court March 23. Joshua Earrey is currently out on bond.

If convicted, Hickox faces a minimum mandatory of 5 years up to 40 years in prison. He would also face up to a $5 million fine and a minimum of four years of probation. Earry could face up to 15 years in prison.

“I believe we must make sure law enforcement officers who break the law are held accountable," said Sheriff Bill Leeper in a statement. "I was shocked, disappointed, disgusted and beyond angry when I heard the allegations against Sergeant Hickox. He has let down his co-workers, our community, thrown away his career, as well as embarrassed his family."

He continued, "I am firmly committed to holding our employees to the highest ethical standards. Although law enforcement officers are human and humans make mistakes, his actions are unforgivable. We will do whatever it takes to ensure we are holding ourselves accountable.  That means we will be looking at our policies and procedures to review anything that could be changed to prevent anything like this from happening again... His poor judgement and criminal behavior should not reflect negatively on all the good men and women at NCSO who go out every day and do it the right way to keep our citizens safe."

Hickox started his career with NCSO on Jan, 5, 2006. 

NCSO says his employment was terminated when he was arrested by the FBI on March 10, 2023.

According to First Coast News Crime and Safety Analyst Mark Baughman, “The problem is it starts to erode public trust, and that’s never a good thing -- especially with officers who are out here working to do the job and do it the right way.”

First Coast News has asked for comment on the arrests of Earrey and Hickox from the DEA and FHP. Earrey did not return a call for comment. Hickox is in federal custody and could not be reached. Hickox’s attorney George Fallis declined comment.

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