Felony charges have been filed against two men in connection with a wave of “Puffy Coat Bandit” thefts from restaurant patrons across the city, a Chicago alderman said Friday evening.
Jerome Sharp, 29, and James Wilkins, 27, were indicted by a Cook County grand jury after a painstaking investigation that involved Chicago police and federal authorities, according to Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and a law enforcement source.
Hopkins tweeted that charges were filed against two suspected “ringleaders” of the theft crew, one day after Block Club Chicago reported that restaurant owners believed “cops aren’t doing much about” the crimes.
In fact, a wide-reaching investigation had been underway for weeks. The US Marshals Service even got involved after the thieves stole a wallet and credentials belonging to a public official, believed to be a federal judge’s law clerk, a source said.
Sharp, an 11-time convicted felon, has been in jail on theft and domestic battery charges since December 16, public records show. The theft charge filed against Sharp in December involves a May 15, 2022, incident at a restaurant in the 2200 block of North Clybourn.
In that case, a man was having breakfast when Sharp and another man approached and asked him to make donations while Sharp placed a brown bag on the victim’s table, prosecutors said. The victim asked them to leave him alone.
Sharp allegedly picked up the bag and the victim’s wallet, then walked away. Four of the victim’s credit cards were quickly used at a Target store. That’s the same technique used by the so-called “Puffy Coat” team.
Wilkins has been in jail on a warrant since February 10. Chicago police records show he has also been arrested for theft-related allegations at least three times, but the outcomes of those cases were not immediately available.
Some of the “Puffy Coat” thefts occurred as recently as last weekend while Sharp and Wilkins were in custody. So, more arrests are possible, according to the law enforcement source.
For weeks, men dressed in puffy jackets have been distracting diners and stealing their phones, wallets, and purses in restaurants and bars across the city, particularly in Lincoln Park and the Near North Side.
The victims’ credit cards were maxed out within minutes of the thefts, almost always at Target stores in the South Loop and the Near North Side, according to Chicago police reports and recent statements by prosecutors in related cases.
Hopkins praised CPD’s 18th District foot patrol officers, detectives, and a fugitive apprehension team that arrested Sharp and Wilkins, whom he called the “ringleaders” of the theft operation.
CWB Chicago will post an updated story after Sharp and Wilkins appear in bond court to face the new allegations.