CINCINNATI -- A Tri-State man is facing felony charges over allegations that he stole money he had claimed would benefit the area's "Shop with a Cop" gift program for children in need.
Jerry Hinkle is facing charges of theft and telecommunications fraud after law enforcement officials warned that people should not donate to an organization called "The Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Organization." Investigators said that group, and others called the "Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Alliance" and the "Eighth District Police and Fire Retirees of Ohio" are fake, but that Hinkle and his associates used those names to collect donations and steal them.
Hinkle was arrested Tuesday morning.
Thousands of children received gifts through "Shop with a Cop" for 40 years. But the real group that funded it, the "Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Association," had its last outing in 2017 because the Ohio Attorney General's Office shut it down in the spring.
However, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said people were still soliciting donations even though the group no longer existed.
"This is not a legitimate organization," he said. "These are people that are using the good name of the police, using the thought that you're helping underprivileged children, and they're just pocketing it. There's no other way to describe it."
Investigators believe Hinkle was at the center of what Deters called a big scam.
"The problem is that there's these scam artists out there that use the good name of law enforcement to hustle people for money," Deters said.
Hinkle declined to answer a reporter's questions.
Authorities warned Hinkle not to collect any more money on behalf of the association, or they would arrest him. But investigators said Hinkle went right back to work. Since February, bank records show he collected at least $90,000 from generous people in the Tri-State, telling them it was for gifts for needy children.
"He's admitted to it so, you know, 'adios,'" Deters said.
The amount of money will likely grow as the investigation continues, according to Deters. He said Hinkle blew all the cash on drugs and gambling.
"Your money's not going to come back," he said. "It's just not. He's never going to be in a position to make restitution."
Hinkle is the second person in trouble over collecting donations for the Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Association. When the attorney general's office shut down the association in April, the group's founder — a former Cincinnati police officer named Tim Mercurio — signed a document stating he "committed deceptive acts while soliciting" for it, but also stating that he disputes those claims.
Hinkle's arrest doesn't mean the criminal case is closed, according to Deters. And he said he wants the public to remember all the good "Shop with a Cop" did in the community, even though some people behind it deceived its donors.
"It's disturbing, and people in law enforcement detest this kind of stuff," he said. "And we have sent some kind of a message to other groups that are thinking about doing something like this, that it's going to result in some serious jail time."
A judge on Wednesday issued Hinkle a $100,000 bond.