TUSCOLA — A former Arcola police officer who extorted money from Spanish-speaking people in Douglas County faces penalties ranging from probation to 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in September.
Rogelio Javier Gutierrez, 34, of Humboldt, pleaded guilty Friday before Douglas County Judge Mike Carroll to two counts of official misconduct and two counts of intimidation. He'll be sentenced Sept. 17.
Douglas County State's Attorney Kevin Nolan said the charges stemmed from conduct that Gutierrez engaged in while he was employed as an Arcola police officer in 2011 and 2012. Gutierrez also served as chief of police in Hindsboro.
His attorney, Mark Lipton of Champaign, said Gutierrez resigned both positions about a year ago. He was criminally charged in March 2012.
The counts to which he pleaded guilty alleged incidents with two different victims — one in April 2011 and the other in February 2012, Nolan said. It was after the February 2012 incident that Illinois State Police began investigating.
Nolan said a Spanish-speaking couple from Terre Haute, Ind., was with their three children and another adult male friend headed east on Illinois 133 out of Douglas County on Feb. 28, 2012, when their car was pulled over by Gutierrez.
"He approached and began speaking in fluent Spanish saying that their license plate had expired," said Nolan.
When the wife protested that it was not expired, Gutierrez then proclaimed that the husband's license was not valid and demanded $500 as "bail" or else he would arrest them and impound their car, Nolan said.
Nolan said the couple had spent their cash on new school clothes for their children at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Tuscola so their friend paid the money. Once back in Indiana, the woman repaid the friend using money she had been saving for her children's parochial school tuition.
Nolan said she had been working, without pay, as a janitor at the Catholic school but was also saving whatever cash she could to help pay what they owed on the tuition. When she told a school administrator the story of what had happened to her money, the administrator alerted authorities in Douglas County and state police began an investigation.
The April 2011 incident involved an Arcola man who had been told by Gutierrez that his name would be placed on a list of people who did not have an appropriate driver's license and would be subject to being stopped by police unless the man gave Gutierrez $500.
Nolan said the victim told Gutierrez they were having a birthday party for his daughter and that he should return later. When Gutierrez came back five hours later, the victim paid him with money that had been given to his daughter for her birthday and money from other friends and relatives.
Nolan credited the Terre Haute woman for telling someone what had happened to her family, which started the investigation. He said police talked to many people in Douglas County, but many "were terrified of coming forward."
"They don't want to get noticed," Nolan said of the victims, many of whom are undocumented aliens in the country illegally.
Nolan said he hopes to present evidence from other victims who may have had contact with Gutierrez at his sentencing hearing.
Conviction on the official misconduct charge means Gutierrez will not be able to get a job as a public employee in the future, Nolan said.
In exchange for Gutierrez's pleas, Nolan agreed to dismiss a more serious charge of armed violence alleging that he threatened the victims while armed with his service weapon.