I-TEAM: Arrest of former DEA task force officer has possible ties to the arrest of FHP trooper

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The I-TEAM has been digging into the allegations against a former Nassau County sergeant -- who was also a DEA task force officer -- and found possible ties to another drug investigation, resulting in the arrest of a longtime Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

James Hickox, 37, is facing federal charges of possessing drugs with the intent to distribute. When federal agents searched Hickox’s Callahan home, they found cocaine, ecstasy, and fentanyl.

It appears the informant who blew the whistle on Hickox may have also led investigators to an FHP officer who is now facing a drug-related charge. An attorney told the News4JAX I-TEAM that both law enforcement officers could soon be facing even more charges in federal court.

According to an affidavit, federal agents found crack cocaine, a loaded gun and fentanyl in his garage as well as more than 300 ecstasy tablets in his office at the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office. They also found what were believed to be two burner phones in his patrol car.

At Hickox’s home, the affidavit says agents found three shoeboxes containing an estimated $100,000 in cash, plus about $76,000 in a safe. According to the FBI, a search of Hickox’s financial records revealed $260,000 in credit card charges since 2020, as well as expenditures on construction, an ATV, medical bills and plastic surgery.

John Rockwell, a criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case, shared his thoughts on the investigation.

“I know that he said he had some kind of a gambling problem and was getting money from family,” Rockwell said. “But, you know, it seems unlikely based on the amount of money that’s being paid, used to pay off the debts and other cash that is being used in the form of a cashier’s check.”

The investigation into Hickox started in August when a long-time felon arrested by Homeland Security on drug-related charges said Hickox and another law enforcement officer, who is not named, would steal drugs seized in investigations and give them to informants to sell with the understanding they would receive a cut of the proceeds.

Longtime FHP Trooper Joshua Earrey was arrested Friday, on the same day as Hickox. The description of the informant who tipped off investigators about him matches that of the informant who reported Hickox.

Earrey is charged with using or being addicted to pain pills while in possession of a firearm. The affidavit says Earrey had undergone surgery and was originally prescribed painkillers in 2018 before his prescription tapered off, and he turned to a confidential informant to buy drugs.

Both Hickox and Earrey were at one point part of the DEA Task Force Two, according to the affidavits. Rockwell said it’s possible some of their charged activities could be related, but it may also be a coincidence.

“The charges are definitely more serious for Mr. Hickox than they are for Mr. Earrey,” Rockwell said. “But definitely telling that that could be who the other officer is, as defined in that complaint, but it also can be another person who we don’t know yet.”

Hickox is facing up to 40 years in prison if convicted and Earrey is facing up to 10 years if convicted -- that’s if additional charges aren’t brought.

Court records show Hickox has been ordered to remain in custody for now, while Earrey has been permitted to go to a residential treatment facility in Georgia.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter