updated 11/19/2008 2:57:48 PM ET 2008-11-19T19:57:48

Government officials say a decorated federal immigrations officer has been arrested on drug distribution charges.

The officials tell The Associated Press that Special Agent Kevin Merkel is accused in a secret indictment of possession and intent to distribute crystal methamphetamine. They spoke on condition of anonymity because charges have not been unsealed. It is not clear if Merkel has been cooperating with authorities since his arrest.

Merkel is a veteran officer who won the Attorney General's Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement — one of the highest honors bestowed on law enforcement personnel.

He was arrested by the FBI on Oct. 29 in the Washington, D.C. area. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment Wednesday, as did an FBI spokesman. ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general were part of the probe.

A Department of Justice Web site details a July 2000 ceremony in which Merkel was one of five officials honored with the attorney general's award for launching a "breakthrough" undercover operation into an illegal immigrant smuggling ring.

"The effort required initiative, ingenuity, and creativity to cope with the quickly changing tactics of alien smugglers and large-scale financial transactions," according to the government Web site.

In recent years, Merkel has worked on a major homeland security initiative called Secure Communities, working with local law enforcement agencies to deport illegal aliens in police custody.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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