A Miami police officer surrendered Monday to the FBI on federal charges of shaking down a Liberty City gambling operation while providing protection.
Jerry Sutherland, a patrolman who worked out of the North District station, is accused of taking cash payments totaling thousands of dollars from the illegal sports-betting establishment at Northwest Seventh Avenue and 79th Street during the past year, according to court records.
Sutherland, charged with two counts of Hobbs Act extortion that carry up to 20 years each, was granted a $50,000 bond in Miami federal court. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 13.
Sutherland was charged by information, a telltale sign that he is cooperating with prosecutor Harry Wallace and the FBI’s anti-corruption unit, including Miami police detectives. Sutherland’s defense attorneys, Gene Gibbons and Robert Buschel, wouldn’t comment except to say they were “happy with the bond.”
Sutherland, 28, who has been relieved of duty, joined the Miami Police Department after graduating from high school. Sutherland once ran unsuccessfully for the District 5 City Commission seat in 2010.
Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said he was “disappointed and disheartened” by Sutherland’s alleged misconduct.
“I will not tolerate any conduct that discredits this organization,” Llanes said in a statement. “Any time a law enforcement officer is accused of tarnishing the badge, it is an embarrassment to all the honest, hard-working members of this profession who work, day in and day out, to protect and serve with integrity.”
Sutherland’s case is unrelated to a major sports-gambling protection racket in the commercial heart of Liberty City that led to the convictions, resignations or firings of about 10 Miami police officers in 2013 and early 2014. The illicit betting operation was run out of a barber shop at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Northwest 63rd Street.
Sutherland’s case also is unrelated to the recent suspensions of three Miami patrol officers and two public service aides. Officers Michael Bode, Artice Peoples and Julio Ruiz were relieved of duty in December on suspicion that they took kickbacks from towing companies that they directed to traffic accidents. Those companies had no tow contracts with the city.
Those Miami officers and aides informed the rogue operators of the accidents instead of notifying the companies that contract with the city, then collected thousands of dollars from the tow-truck companies they helped out, according to investigators. The three officers are expected to be charged with corruption-related offenses.
In recent months, the FBI-led investigation has broadened to several officers in the Miami-Dade Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.
The focus is not only on towing companies paying alleged kickbacks to officers, but also on auto body shops boosting damages for fraudulent insurance claims, according to sources familiar with the probe.