Crime

Ex-Miami cop pleads guilty to shaking down sports-gambling operation

Officer Jerry Sutherland, pictured at a 2011 church appearance, pleaded guilty to extortion charges on Monday in federal court.
Officer Jerry Sutherland, pictured at a 2011 church appearance, pleaded guilty to extortion charges on Monday in federal court. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

A former Miami police officer who squeezed a Liberty City sports-betting operation for thousands of dollars pleaded guilty Monday in federal court.

Jerry Sutherland, 28, extorted a total of $3,400 last year from the unnamed gambling operator during 10 meetings in exchange for police protection, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Sutherland, a onetime patrolman who had worked out of the North District station, pleaded guilty to two counts of extortion carrying up to 20 years each. But he is expected to receive a much shorter prison sentence when he appears in May before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga because he agreed to plead guilty and resign from the force last month.

Sutherland, who had joined the Miami police out of high school, went astray after asking a Liberty City businessman to paint some helmets for an adult football team that he managed, according to court papers. He wanted the work done for free.

Sutherland asked the businessman for additional favors, in the mistaken belief that he ran the illegal Liberty City sports betting operation, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement. He eventually told the businessman that he could pass information about police surveillance in the area to the actual owner of the gambling operation — for a price, the statement said.

An FBI anti-corruption task force, including Miami police detectives, made audio and video recordings of Sutherland as he shook down money from the gambling operator, the statement said. The illicit operation placed bets with a gambling establishment in Las Vegas.

Sutherland also promised to “arrange for the dismissal of a criminal court case against an employee of the illegal gambling operation,” according to the statement. He also agreed to increase police surveillance of a rival betting business to steer customers to that operation.

Sutherland also dabbled in politics. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for the city commission in District 5. He also served as a pastor of Sunrise Missionary Baptist Church and did nonprofit work in the Liberty City community where he was raised.

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