Police arrested an Arizona Cardinals football player Tuesday on accusations he helped run an international drug syndicate that stretched from Mexico to New York City.
Dennis McKinley, 26, a second-string fullback, is one of four Valley men suspected of managing the distribution of thousands of pounds of marijuana throughout the country. Authorities said McKinley, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, was the lead moneyman in the network that smuggled marijuana from Mexico to a south Phoenix warehouse.
The Cardinals cut McKinley immediately after learning of his arrest, according to a statement released by the organization.
"This is a very serious criminal matter," vice president and general counsel Michael Bidwill wrote in a statement. "We are surprised and disappointed to learn of the circumstances relating to Dennis McKinley's arrest."
Officials said workers at the warehouse would wrap the marijuana in red cellophane, package the 25- to 30-pound bales into white boxes, then load them into semitrailers.
The drugs were then shipped to major cities across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, as well as towns in Kentucky, Texas and Virginia.
McKinley was one of two men who leased the warehouse in the 1300 block of East Gibson Lane for $3,000 per month, officials said.
The investigation that led to the arrests started Aug. 9, 2002, when police seized $250,000 cash and four bales of marijuana that were disguised as hay after a drug-related shootout in Phoenix.
Since that shooting, police have arrested 34 people in Phoenix and New York and seized 1,500 pounds of marijuana, more than $407,000 in cash, nine vehicles, 11 guns and two semitrailers, said Phoenix police Cmdr. Joe Klima.
Authorities said they learned of McKinley's involvement late in the investigation. He is not a suspect in the August shooting, officials said.
Police arrested McKinley about 6:30 a.m. at his apartment in the 13600 block of South 44th Street, officials said.
McKinley was booked into Maricopa County's Madison Street Jail in Phoenix, where is being held on $90,000 bond.
During his initial court appearance, McKinley, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, shook his head in disbelief, then glared at Laura Reckart as the attorney with the Arizona Attorney General's Office read a list of allegations.
Reckart had asked the court to hold McKinley on $250,000 bond because she considered him a flight risk.
"I don't understand why it's so high," McKinley said to the judge.
Robert Lee, 55, Jason Eaton, 29, and Marcos Moreno, 22, also were arrested Tuesday in connection with drug trafficking and booked into Madison Street Jail, officials said. No charges have been filed, said Donald Conrad, division chief counsel for the criminal division of the attorney general's office. Charges should be filed by Thursday, he said.
McKinley was a sixth-round draft choice out of Mississippi State in 1999. Although he plays fullback, his primary contribution to the Cardinals has been as a special teams player. He played in 58 games (two starts) during four seasons, and primarily played on special teams.
McKinley earned $563,000 last year. He had just received most of a $200,000 signing bonus after inking a two-year contract during the offseason. About $80,000 was deferred until Sept. 4, 2004.
This is the latest incident involving players associated with the Cardinals.
Former running back Michael Pittman — a close friend of McKinley’s — was arrested in 2001 on suspicion of domestic abuse. Most recently, Pittman was charged June 4 with two counts of aggravated assault after Phoenix police said Pittman rammed his wife's Mercedes with his Hummer H2 during an argument. His wife, a babysitter and his 3-year-old son were in the car, police said.
Pittman, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was on probation as a result of pleading guilty in connection with two prior fights with his wife.
Former wide receiver David Boston, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence after an arrest on March 13, 2002.