California drug enforcement agents say they are closing in on the suspected marijuana suppliers to pro football player Jerome Simpson, four months after the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver received a 2.5-pound package of Northern California pot sent to his suburban Kentucky home.
The investigation likely includes at least one other person with ties to the National Football League, a state Department of Justice spokeswoman said.
“We’re following up on leads in Northern California and getting close to wrapping that up,” said Michelle Gregory, the spokeswoman. “It’s going to be pretty big.”
Simpson, 25, was indicted Thursday by a grand jury in Kenton County, Ky., on a charge of trafficking more than 8 ounces of marijuana, according to the indictment. Simpson’s attorney, Burr Travis, said the case starts and stops with his client, who plans to plead not guilty at his Jan. 30 arraignment.
In what authorities say is an unrelated investigation, another NFL player, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd, also faces drug-trafficking charges following his arrest last month in Chicago. Police reportedly have a "double-digit" list of players to whom he supplied drugs.
Hurd is scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday at an arraignment hearing in U.S. District Court in Dallas. He was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after he allegedly told an undercover agent at a Chicago-area restaurant that he wanted to purchase 1,000 pounds of marijuana and up to 10 kilograms of cocaine a week, according to the criminal complaint.
Hurd, 26, was indicted on Jan. 4. He faces up to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
Hurd’s attorney, David E. Kenner, did not return calls seeking comment. Kenner, who helped rapper Snoop Dogg beat a murder charge, has said Hurd will plead not guilty. Kenner has adamantly denied that Hurd supplied drugs to other players.
The Chicago Bears waived Hurd shortly after his arrest. In what was his first season with the Bears, the wide receiver caught eight passes for 109 yards. He played for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons.
Simpson, a four-year veteran, had a career-best season with 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is aware of the cases against Hurd and Simpson, but declined to comment on whether it has opened a broader investigation into possible issues of drug trafficking and drug use among its players.
Since Sept. 20, when state narcotics agents intercepted in Sacramento a shipment of marijuana originally sent from Eureka, Calif., to Simpson’s home in the Cincinnati suburb of Crestview Hills, Ky., state and federal authorities in California have watched to see if Kentucky officials would charge Simpson.
“As it was only a small amount of marijuana … it is more appropriate for charges to be filed in Kentucky courts,” said Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento. “We are more interested to know who the supplier is.”
Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders, the Kentucky state prosecutor who sought the indictment, said he doesn’t expect any other people to be charged in Kentucky, even if it appeared Simpson intended to distribute the marijuana.
“Three pounds is far more marijuana than any one person could consume in a lifetime,” he said. “Some people out there may want to prove me wrong; nevertheless, the quantity of marijuana alone is indicative of an intent to distribute.”
The indictment was delayed a month because of scheduling conflicts, not because of the NFL season, Sanders said. He declined to comment on whether authorities outside of Kentucky or California were involved in any investigation or if federal officials plan to prosecute other possible suspects.
Simpson, whom Sanders said cooperated with the police investigation, faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.