Ex-Pittsfield Police Officer Jeffrey Coco gets 20 months in jail for stealing $228K from police union fund
PITTSFIELD — A former city police officer once entrusted as treasurer of the local union has been sentenced to 20 months in jail for stealing about $228,000 in union funds to support his opioid addiction.
Jeffrey D. Coco, 44, an 18-year veteran of the force, pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court on Monday to larceny and identity theft charges.
First Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello recommended a sentence of three to five years in state prison, citing the amount of money stolen as well as the “betrayal of trust” Coco engaged in by stealing money that he had access to through his position as a city police officer.
“The people who go out and serve the community every day,” Caccaviello said. “Those are the people he was stealing from.”
The thefts, which occurred between January 2011 and July 2015, ranged from $28,000 to $53,000 per year, Caccaviello said.
Coco admitted to using money from the account to support an opioid addiction as well as for personal expenses, including purchases at area department stores, supermarkets and restaurants, mortgage payments and wedding expenses.
His attorney, Timothy Burke, said Coco's thefts were borne out of an addiction to opiates that developed from painkiller prescriptions he was given in 2009 after injuring his hand while on duty.
“There’s no question he’s done wrong,” Burke said. “Except for this addiction, this wouldn’t have happened.”
He said while his client’s addiction was neither an excuse nor a justification for the thefts, he noted that is what "fueled and drove his decision.”
Burke argued against state prison time.
“I know evil when I see it,” he said. “This is not an evil person.”
Burke asked Judge John Agostini to consider placing Coco on one year of probation while he served house arrest.
“Not everybody needs to be incarcerated,” said Burke, who noted Coco will be observing one year of being clean and sober on April 1.
Agostini agreed Coco was, “far from being an evil person,” but he felt the charges were serious enough and the amount of money was significant enough to warrant some period of incarceration.
The judge said even those who are still supportive of Coco are likely “devastated” by the scope of his crime.
He called it an “extraordinary” amount of money and said it was stolen from the union account over a long period of time.
“These were not rash acts,” Agostini said.
The investigation began in July 2015 after Coco had taken a leave of absence from the department.
Soon after, another officer in the department was made aware of a problem with the union’s checking account. A check written against the account for $1,300 was declined due to insufficient funds. The account typically carried a balance between $10,000 and $14,000.
Two officers had usually been responsible for monitoring those funds, but that fell to just one under Coco’s watch.
The money was used for, among other things, funding scholarships and supporting youth sports teams.
The account was supported through union dues from officers as well as from donations solicited through fundraising efforts.
He wrote checks from the union account to area businesses including Walmart, Home Depot and Stop & Shop. Caccaviello said some of the area merchants who were paid with checks written from the union account were suspicious, but because of Coco’s position in the department, assumed the purchases were legitimate.
Agostini said Coco’s thefts may have had a chilling effect on those donations by eroding confidence from the public that money is going where it’s intended.
In addition, Caccaviello said Coco used union money to make three mortgage payments and spent another $5,000 on wedding expenses.
In September 2013, Coco faxed a letter to the holder of his retirement account to seek release of some of that money, posing as an attorney, leading to the identity theft charge.
Even with all of that in mind, Agostini said this was not a state prison case and instead imposed a the jail sentence, which will be followed by three years of probation, during which time Coco must avoid drugs and submit to counseling and drug testing.
Agostini agreed to stay the imposition of the sentence until April 3.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
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