Two Plead Guilty in Federal Extortion Case Involving Former East Tennessee Law Enforcement Officers
KNOXVILLE, TN—On Nov. 21, 2014, Robert E. Cummings, 61, of Knox County, Tenn., and Benito D. Lopez, 62, of Knox County pleaded guilty to attempting to commit extortion under color of official right. Sentencing for Cummings was set for 1:00 p.m., on Mar. 23, 2015. Sentencing for Lopez was set for 9:00 a.m., on Mar. 30, 2015. Each faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervision by the U.S. Probation office upon release from prison.
Under “color of official right,” a public official obtains a payment to which he or she is not entitled, believing that the money is being given to him or her in return for taking, withholding, or influencing official action. Cummings was a former University of Tennessee Police Officer. Lopez was a former TVA Police Officer.
Both Cummings and Lopez were indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury, along with three other former or current law enforcement officers: Jimmy W. Douglas, 43, of Knox County, a former Deputy Sheriff for Knox County Sheriff’s Office; Samuel T. Hardy, Jr., 42, of Knox County, a former Deputy Sheriff for Knox County Sheriff’s Office; and David L. Joyner, 44, of Sevier County, a detective with the Pigeon Forge Police Department. Another former officer involved in the scheme previously pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to an information charging him with violations of the Hobbs Act. Douglas, Hardy and Joyner have all entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial in U.S. District Court.
The indictment and subsequent guilty pleas by the these individuals are the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Valley Authority—Office of Inspector General, and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Theodore represents the United States.