CLEVELAND (AP) — A prosecutor in Cleveland has asked judges to void criminal convictions for 40 people caught in a web of corruption spun by three rogue narcotics detectives who lied, cheated and stole from people they targeted.
“We believe that justice obtained through unfair means is not really justice,” Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Jose Torres said Friday. “It’s repugnant to all of our core principles of truth and justice.”
The tainted cases were brought to prosecutors by East Cleveland detectives Antonio Malone and Eric Jones and their supervisor, Sgt. Torris Moore. All three pleaded guilty and were sentenced earlier this year to federal conspiracy charges. The officers admitted they falsified search warrant affidavits and reports and lied about the existence of informers during a scheme that netted them tens of thousands of dollars.
Moore was sentenced to nine years in prison, Malone to nearly six years and Jones to nearly four years.
The prosecutor’s office previously sought to void three cases cited in the federal prosecution. The office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, with the help of East Cleveland police, re-investigated cases tied to the detectives between 2011 and 2015 and identified 27 with 40 defendants that appeared to be tainted.
“We could not have confidence the convictions were based on due process and couldn’t have any trust they were fair investigations,” Torres said.
The East Cleveland officers searched homes and business without warrants, and when they obtained warrants, they lied to judges about what evidence they had, Torres said. The officers also falsely claimed they used informers and made undercover drug purchases from people they targeted.
The Cleveland.com news site first reported the effort to void the convictions earlier this week.
The Associated Press reviewed online court records and found 39 of the 40 defendants had cases for which they were sentenced. All 39 pleaded guilty. Sixteen received sentences ranging from six months in jail to five years in state prison. Judges ordered some of the defendants to forfeit about $25,000 in cash, a car and other personal property to the East Cleveland Police Department that Torres said should be returned.
Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert represented a defendant in a drug case that was previously voided and now represents the only defendant among the 40 people still in prison. Jeffrey Brown pleaded guilty in April 2014 to drug trafficking and received five years in prison. Represented by a different attorney, Brown pleaded guilty to two other cases at the time along with the tainted East Cleveland case.
Gilbert said Brown should be freed from prison and the other two convictions voided or set for a new trial because the plea bargain was a “package deal” based on fabrications.
“Had the lawyer known, it would have changed the process for how he handled the defense,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert rues that suing East Cleveland appears pointless. The city is deeply in debt and can barely afford to provide basic services.
State law doesn’t allow people whose convictions are voided for procedural errors to be paid from Ohio’s wrongful imprisonment fund.
“None of these people are going to get one dime,” Gilbert said.