CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three former officers of the East Cleveland Police Department face corruption charges in what federal prosecutors describe as a heavy-handed scheme to rip off suspected drug dealers by stealing money seized through illegal search warrants.
Sgt. Torris Moore and detectives Antonio Malone and Eric Jones are charged with conspiring to illegally take tens of thousands of dollars from four drug dealers between 2012 and 2014. The officers would sometimes split the money among themselves, others, or just keep it.
The officers, who all worked in the city’s street crime unit, partly did this by applying for and receiving search warrants by filing false statements to judges, according to charging documents. The indictment states that five suspected drug dealers were targeted by the officers, and prosecutors said one of them was admitted heroin trafficker Mark Makupson.
State and federal investigators and prosecutors announced the charges during a news conference Thursday morning. The investigation stretches back more than two years. The charging documents show that the FBI used recorded conversations with cooperating witnesses to obtain incriminating statements against the officers.
The three officers resigned from the department within the past year.
Their actions have caused drug charges against several defendants to be dropped, though Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said he did not have an exact count. He said he did not think any of the officers’ victims were convicted of drug crimes in the cases the officers claimed to investigate.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, at the news conference, said that the officers “pillaged and plundered,” rather than protected and served.
“They viewed the drug trade not as a public safety risk but as a chance to get rich for themselves and they lied to the court, their fellow officers and the citizens of East Cleveland in order to pull off their criminal conspiracy,” Dettelbach said.
Documents suggest that Malone, 33, and Jones, 38, are cooperating. Both were charged in a criminal information, which usually means that a plea deal is in the works.
They are accused of conspiracy and a Hobbs Act conspiracy. They are not in custody.
Meanwhile, Moore, who supervised the drug unit and sent information to the county prosecutors for charging, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury and was arrested at her South Euclid home without incident Thursday morning. She faces two conspiracy charges, two counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and making false statements to the FBI.
She pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Thursday afternoon. Magistrate Judge Nancy Vecchiarelli freed her on bond.
(To read the charging documents, scroll to the bottom of this story.)
During the news conference, Steven Anthony, head of the FBI’s Cleveland, said that bringing the charges against the officers made it a “sad, unfortunate” day, but also a necessary one.
“Without the trust or confidence in the criminal justice system, it will not work,” Anthony said.
Malone’s attorney did not return a phone call. Jones’ attorney, Jim Jenkins, said his client tried to resist the pull of the case for a long time but got “sucked in.” He said he gave some of the money he obtained to a church.
Nathan Ray, Moore’s attorney, declined to comment following his client’s arraignment.
According to court filings, there were several instances in which the officers illegally took money. They include:
• In September 2012, a municipal court judge signed an search warrant presented by Jones that contained false information about a suspect identified in the indictment only as “J.W.” The next day, Moore, Malone, Jones and a fourth officer searched the home on Sheldon Avenue, and seized $20,000 in cash and some drugs.
Later that day, Moore, Malone and Jones met at a park and divvied up part of the seized money, with each receiving between $2,000 and $3,000. They then put the remaining money in the department’s evidence room, stating that they seized less than they actually had.
• On June 20, 2013, officers went to the home of a suspect identified in the indictment as “K.B.” on East 85th Street. A relative of the suspect allowed the officers to search the suspect’s bedroom, which had a padlock on the door. Malone forced his way into the room and seized $100,000 in cash.
That day, he split part of the proceeds with Moore and Jones, with each receiving about $10,000, and the rest went into the evidence room with the stolen amount omitted.
• One June 19, 2014, Malone took a bribe from Makupson after threatening to arrest Makupson during a traffic stop.
Makupson told Malone that his arrest would “create problems.” Malone agreed to let him go, but said he would have to tow his car.
Makupson said that the glove compartment contained between $11,000 and $12,000. The officer let him retrieve all but $3,000.
Makupson, 34, pleaded guilty in November to federal drug charges. Prosecutors said he ran a scheme to bring large quantities of drugs to Cleveland.
He will be sentenced on Tuesday.
Malone was also charged in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in November with four counts unauthorized use of computers. Prosecutors accused him of using police computers for personal use.
The charges were dropped in March, records show.
East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said the officers’ actions led to changes at the police department, including more oversight for warrants and the handling of drug money and evidence.
Norton said the police department received complaints from residents about officers, many of whom had no involvement with the suspected drug dealers the officers are accused of ripping off.
“These police just ran into their houses and thought they could do what they wanted to,” Norton said.