Two former police officers in East Cleveland, Ohio were sentenced to prison this week for stealing thousands of dollars from unsuspecting motorists during traffic stops, writing at least one a ticket in the process and robbing one man twice, prosecutors announced.
Willie Sims, 32, and Alfonzo Cole, 35, stole a collective $14,781, two firearms and marijuana edibles from six victims between July 2020 and July 2021, according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
Both pleaded guilty to four counts of felony robbery and one count of felony theft in office.
Cole was convicted on additional charges of having weapons under disability and carrying concealed weapons for stealing guns from two separate drivers in June and July 2021.
On Monday, Cole was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, court records show. Sims received a two-year prison sentence on Thursday.
The two were finally apprehended after they robbed a 21-year-old motorist of $4,000 on his way to pay for his mother’s funeral services on July 9 of 2021, Cleveland.com reported.
That victim drove straight to the police station where he worked and filed a complaint. Later that day, department supervisors pulled Cole over and recovered $1,200 and weed edibles, according to the local outlet.
Another victim, Jonathan Whitlow, doubted that the officers ever would have been investigated were it not for that victim’s response.
“This has been going on in East Cleveland for over 20 years, and nobody has been doing nothing about it,” he told Cleveland.com.
Whitlow was robbed by Sims on November 8, 2020, and then again in July 2021, swiping a collective $2,081. The first time Sims pulled him over – allegedly giving conflicting reasons for the stop before settling on a window tint violation – Whitlow said he hadn’t reported the theft because he had marijuana in the vehicle that the officer hadn’t found.
The second time, he testified in court, the officer stole four marijuana gummies – and Whitlow said he caught the interaction on video.
Whitlow told a judge last week that he didn’t want Sims to go to prison, Cleveland.com reported, asking “How is he going to pay [back] making three cents an hour?”
“He didn’t kill nobody. He didn’t beat nobody up. He’s a thief,” Whitlow continued. “Him going to jail ain’t going to do nothing for me.”
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy McGinty acknowledged Whitlow’s wish to be repaid and remarked that his pessimism was well placed.
Both officers were fined $40,000 and ordered to repay $5,000 to one of their victims. Cole was ordered to pay three victims he robbed on his own $4,580, while Sims must repay $6,931 to his victims.
It is unclear whether this amount includes the fine for a traffic ticket Cole issued to one victim from whom he stole $850 and approximately $400 worth of marijuana in September 2021.
Judge McGinty noted that Whitlow, who has several prior convictions, had respected the officer’s authority during the particularly expensive traffic stops. “And it was the police officer who was robbing him,” the judge noted. “It’s turning it all around.”
Sims apologized to his friends and family in court, but not to his victims.
“I’m looking forward to moving on with my life,” the disgraced officer said Thursday.
Allegedly, McGinty said, he told the court’s probation department that he held no remorse for his actions because he was pocketing drug dealers’ money, claiming that he had learned the practice from older officers on the force.
Sims allegedly told his first victim, a worker for a beverage distribution company, that he “must have dropped” the $3,850 he had collected from clients on his route, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mary Grace Tokmenko said in court on Thursday. Sims allegedly let himself into the worker’s car when he spotted a gun on the seat, and then pocketed the money inside.
In May of last year, Sims was pulled over by police in nearby Willoughby and was cited for improperly handling a gun in his car. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to another fifth-degree felony for the incident. Tokmenko noted that, like Whitlow, Sims was pulled over for a tinted window violation.
“There’s some irony in there, huh,” McGinty remarked, per Cleveland.com.
Sims’ and Coles’ arrests are among many amid a wider investigation into department corruption, WKYC reported.
More than a dozen former and current East Cleveland police officers have been charged – among them former Police Chief Scott Gardner, who has denied charges of fraud, theft, money laundering and tampering with records.