Ex-Chicago cop pleads guilty to theft in FBI sting
Ronald Watts, a 19-year police veteran, pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of dollars from a purported drug dealer
By Jason Meisner
CHICAGO — A former Chicago police sergeant pleaded guilty Friday to stealing thousands of dollars from a purported drug dealer who turned out to be an informant for the FBI in an undercover sting.
Ronald Watts, a 19-year police veteran who resigned this week, had been scheduled to go on trial Monday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. But he pleaded guilty to theft of public funds. U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman set sentencing for Oct. 9. The charge carries a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison, but prosecutors are likely to ask for a sentence of 15 to 21 months.
Dressed in a charcoal suit and wearing wire-rimmed eyeglasses, the burly Watts, 50, answered "guilty" in a husky voice when the judge asked him his plea.
Watts, at the time a Wentworth District tactical sergeant, and Officer Kallatt Mohammed were arrested in early 2012 after they were caught stealing drug proceeds with the help of a courier who was secretly working for the FBI.
Mohammed pleaded guilty last summer and said he and Watts had demanded protection payoffs from drug dealers at the now-shuttered Ida B. Wells public housing complex on the South Side years earlier. Mohammed, who did not agree to testify against Watts, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In bringing charges in February 2012, authorities identified the informant as a homeless man with an extensive criminal record -- 99 arrests and 16 convictions, many for drug offenses. At that point, the informant had been paid $3,250 by the FBI for his undercover work.
FBI agents built the case off the informant's relationship with Watts. According to a criminal complaint, Watts had known the informant for several years and had stopped him many times to talk to him about his work as a drug courier.
Authorities said Watts approached the informant in September 2011 when he was already working undercover for the FBI. The next month, as part of the FBI ruse, the informant led Watts to believe he would be carrying backpacks full of drug proceeds.
In a recorded phone call Nov. 18, 2011, the informant called Watts to tip him off that he would be transporting some cash, telling him, "I got one going on," according to the charges.
"Make sure you call me," the government quoted Watts as saying.
The following Monday afternoon, in an exchange caught by FBI agents on surveillance, Mohammed picked up a bag with $5,200 from the informant in the 2700 block of South Vernon Avenue.
Later, the informant met with Watts in a drugstore parking lot at Cermak Road and Canal Street.
"Who always takes care of you?" Watts was captured asking on the undercover recording.
"You do, Watts," the informant responded. Prosecutors allege that Watts then handed the informant $400 cash, his cut for his role in the theft.
Last November, two veteran Chicago police officers who had worked undercover at the Wells complex filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that they informed their bosses about Watts' corrupt activities but that their supervisors told them to disregard the wrongdoing.
After they took their complaints to the FBI, Officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria were labeled as "rats" by high-ranking police officials who put them in do-nothing jobs, according to the suit.
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