Florida Zachary, A former Jackson County sheriff’s deputy has been arrested on several felony charges.
Fired Jackson County Deputy Zach Wester was arrested Wednesday on racketeering and numerous other charges for allegedly planting meth and other street drugs on unsuspecting motorists before hauling them off to jail.
Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who have been investigating Wester for more than nine months, arrested him in Crawfordville and took him to the Wakulla County Jail, where he is being held without bail. Wester, expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday, invoked his right to remain silent and declined to speak with investigators.
He was arrested on 52 counts in all. Aside from the racketeering count, he was charged with a number of other felonies, including official misconduct, false imprisonment, fabricating evidence and possession of a controlled substance. He was also charged with misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, FDLE said.
Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts, State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins of the 1st Judicial Circuit and Chris Williams, special agent in charge of the FDLE’s Pensacola office, discussed the case in an afternoon news conference. One of Wester’s alleged victims, Teresa Odom, wept as they discussed details of the case.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said afterward, adding she was proud of one of the FDLE agents who worked with her during the investigation.
Roberts, who had been silent about the Wester allegations since the Tallahassee Democrat broke the story last year, said Wester’s alleged crimes were “disheartening.” He thanked the community for its patience during the investigation, which got sidetracked after Hurricane Michael hit Oct. 10.
“This is something we’re not proud of,” said Roberts, who plans to retire and not seek re-election next year. “No agency wants to go through this kind of situation and face the embarrassment of the public. This is a very serious matter. We’re supposed to set higher standards, and the allegations that were made in this case will be tried.”
Eddins and Williams offered new details in the case, including a large amount of drugs found in Wester’s vehicle during an internal affairs probe that began last August. But investigators declined to give a possible motive for Wester’s alleged actions.
“You’re never certain of the ways of the heart of man,” Eddins said. “We have some ideas and some theories, and we’ve talked about that a lot. But I do not feel that it would be appropriate to go into it in any detail at this time.”
Williams emphasized that the case was still open, and he asked the public to call FDLE’s Pensacola office if they have any information about Wester.
“A significant investigation has been and is being conducted,” Williams said. “FDLE has assigned a team of 10 special agents and two crime analysts who have logged over 1,400 hours on this case already. And it’s still ongoing today.”
Eddins, who was assigned the case after Glenn Hess, state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit recused himself, said he was prepared to go to trial now if Wester demands a speedy trial. And he said he will not allow a plea bargain in the case in part because it involves a public employee. He added that so far, no evidence has been found that any other deputies or other Sheriff’s Office personnel worked in concert with Wester.
“It’s been my experience in monitoring this investigation that the law enforcement community in Jackson County is honest, professional and they do not condone or support illegal activity,” Eddins said. “I cannot overstate how complete and how well (the Sheriff’s Office) cooperated with us.”