18-time felon, on probation for ‘Puffy Coat Bandit’ thefts, is charged with theft again

CHICAGO — An 18-time convicted felon on probation for being part of the “Puffy Coat Bandit” theft ring was arrested Sunday after he committed the exact same crime that he’s on probation for, according to prosecutors: stealing a man’s credit cards and using them almost immediately to buy things at Target.

During an initial appearance this week, Judge Susana Ortiz released Jerome Sharp, 30, with a nighttime curfew. He was not detained for violating probation.

One year ago, the “Puffy Coat Bandits” were the talk of the town as they slithered through restaurants in their bulky winter coats, stealing phones, wallets, and purses from unsuspecting diners. The victims’ credit cards were maxed out before they had time to notify their banks, often at Target stores in the South Loop and the Near North Side, according to Chicago police reports.

James Sharp and surveillance images of the “Puffy Coat Bandits” in action last year. (Chicago Police Department; Del Seoul)

The story made the news as restaurant workers claimed Chicago cops weren’t doing anything about the crimes. In fact, CPD had an active investigation going on for weeks. They even won assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service after the puffy coat guys stole the wallet and work credentials from a federal judge’s law clerk.

Sharp, 30, and James Wilkins, 29, were soon arrested. Sharp entered guilty pleas to three felonies in October, including identity theft and theft, according to court records. Judge Ursula Walowski gave him two years of probation.

Now, barely four months later, prosecutors say Sharp did the same thing again.

Around 2 p.m. Sunday, he “participated in the theft” of a 20-year-old man’s phone and credit cards from a coffee shop in the 900 block of West Van Buren, according to his latest CPD arrest report.

The report said the victim’s credit cards were quickly used in “multiple” fraudulent transactions at various locations. Cops caught up with Sharp at the Target store, 1200 North Larrabee, about 45 minutes after the theft.

According to CPD’s inventory records, cops recovered a woman’s checkbook, gift cards, unopened PlayStations, 15 MasterCard gift cards, and an Apple Watch still in its case during his arrest.

Court records show the court’s probation department filed a probation violation notice with Judge Walowski last month. The matter is scheduled to be reviewed during a hearing scheduled for next week.

Sharp’s previous felony convictions include:

  • three thefts in 2012 (probation terminated unsatisfactorily)
  • theft in 2014 (three-year prison sentence)
  • theft in 2016 (three-year prison sentence)
  • nine thefts and ID thefts in 2020 (concurrent two-year prison sentences)
  • aggravated DUI in 2020, a case that also included stolen car allegations (one-year prison sentence)
  • theft, identity theft, and aggravated fleeing in 2023 (the cases he is on probation for)

Wilkins, the other man charged in last year’s thefts, pleaded guilty last month in exchange for a sentence of time served.

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About Tim Hecke 378 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com