It took a jury about three hours Thursday to find former Columbus Police Officer Gregory Diltz guilty of making false statements to the FBI — a conviction that could net him a maximum of five years in prison.
Diltz, a seven-year veteran of the police department when he resigned Aug. 17, 2007, had an extortion charge against him tossed out Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land.
The charges against the 48-year-old stemmed from a disturbance he responded to April 10, 2007, where he arrested Phillip Whitaker, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde has said. Diltz drove Whitaker around and extorted $200 from him, the prosecutor alleged.
Land found on Wednesday there wasn't enough evidence to connect the extortion charge to interstate commerce, said Sue McKinney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. That led to Land to grant defense attorney Tim Flournoy's motion for acquittal on that count.
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Police Chief Ricky Boren has said that the prosecution against Diltz was an offshoot of the Larry Lightning investigation.
Lightning, also a former officer, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine base and to extortion by a public official. He was sentenced in May by Land to more than five years in prison.
"I think it should send a strong message, to law enforcement officers especially, that this is not the type of behavior you want to be involved in," Boren said of Diltz' conviction.
Lightning's attorney, Bill Mason, said part of his client's plea agreement was that if he would testify in Diltz' case if called upon to testify in Diltz' case, he would. If Diltz had pleaded guilty, the government would still have considered recommending that his sentence be reduced.
"They're going to recommend a significant reduction," Mason said.
Prosecutors had said in July they would recommend a probationary sentence if Diltz had pleaded guilty to extortion. That probationary sentence would be unlikely if Diltz went to trial and was found guilty, Land said at the July hearing.
Diltz remains out on bond pending his sentencing.