Crime

Rookie cop gets six years in prison for ripping off motorists during illegal stops

Former rookie Miami police officer Jose Acosta.
Former rookie Miami police officer Jose Acosta. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A rookie Miami cop busted last year for ripping off unsuspecting motorists during illegal traffic stops in Miami’s trendy Wynwood neighborhood pleaded guilty to a host of charges this week and accepted a deal that could land him in prison for up to six years.

Miami police, who followed Jose Acosta after being tipped off to his actions, said the officer stole thousands of dollars in money and items from motorists during a one-year stretch from the time he was hired until he was fired in March 2017.

Acosta, 24, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of burglary, 10 counts of false imprisonment, eight counts of grand theft and two counts of petit theft. He turned himself in Thursday, promising full restitution to the victims and agreeing to a six-year prison sentence that could be reduced to three years with good behavior.

“There was no way out for him other than to be a man and accept responsibility for his actions,” said Acosta’s attorney George Pallas.

Acosta was arrested last year after police witnessed him pull over six cars in a single night. They said each time, the rookie cop flashed his lights and had the driver exit the vehicle. Then, according to police, he searched each vehicle before letting each driver back behind the wheel and sending them on their way.

They said Acosta hit the mother lode on his sixth victim, when after patting the driver down he found he had more than $1,000 in cash. Acosta placed the driver in the backseat of his patrol car as he searched his victim’s vehicle. The driver was permitted to eventually leave — but only after the officer stole $940 from his wallet and pockets, police said.

No tickets were written during any of the traffic stops. And, police said, Acosta had no probable cause to pull over any of the drivers, who were seemingly chosen at random. In all, police believe, Acosta stole as much as $6,000 worth of cash and property.

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said during each of Acosta’s ripoffs he was out patrolling alone. The chief applauded the deal worked out with state prosecutors.

“It’s appropriate that there’s a serious penalty,” said Colina. “Not only did he take from people, but he did it under the color of the law.”

Miami police were helped in the probe by investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Acosta stole from his victims while pretending to protect them.

“Jose Acosta was a corrupt opportunist who used his police uniform as a weapon to steal from people he knew would never contact law enforcement,” she said.

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