An Evanston rare coin dealer has pleaded guilty to buying thousands of dollars worth of purportedly stolen coins, jewelry, watches and other valuables from undercover police officers posing as burglars, according to court records.
James Coello, 47, of Chicago, pleaded guilty to "continuing a financial crimes enterprise" on Wednesday. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Garritt Howard sentenced him to 36 months of probation, 100 hours of community service, plus fees and fines, according to court records.
Coello originally had pleaded not guilty, but changed his mind on Wednesday.
"Basically it was a plea bargain," Coello said when contacted by phone today. "They basically kept the property they seized from my safe, which was basically all coins."
Coello declined to discuss further details of the charges or his plea bargain.
"You'd have to talk to my lawyer about that," he said. "I don't really know the many machinations of how this works. All I know is I paid a lawyer and he pretty much took care of everything."
Coello, who owned and operated North Shore Coins at 1501 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, was arrested in September after he was recorded by undercover police buying thousands of dollars worth of purportedly stolen merchandise that included watches, gold and silver rings, coins, necklaces, and other valuables, authorities said.
They said that on Sept. 25, Evanston police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office executed a search warrant on North Shore Coin and recovered property that had been reported stolen in recent area burglaries.
Evanston police initiated their investigation approximately six months before Coello's arrest when information was developed that merchandise stolen in residential home burglaries was being purchased at Coello’s store, authorities said.
They said undercover officers, posing as burglars, brought items into North Shore Coin to sell, and that during their conversations the officers mentioned to Coello that the merchandise was stolen.
The investigation also revealed that Coello was not recording the sales or requesting identification from sellers, authorities said.
According to investigators, Coello assured the undercover officers that he would not reveal the source of the goods and further assured them that he always melted the valuables down quickly.
During a subsequent meeting, an undercover officer told Coello that he had purchased his sale items from another burglar but that he also sometimes steals things himself. Coello advised him that it was "better to be a middleman than a burglar because they typically faced less serious charges when caught," according to a news release from the Cook County State's Attorney's office.
On another occasion, Coello advised undercover officers not to steal near Evanston and not to tell anyone else about his business, authorities said.
Coello said that North Shore Coins is closed.
"I'm out of the business right now," he said.
The website of the business also appears to be shut down. At the time he was charged, it noted that the business opened in 1973.
"North Shore Coins opened its doors in the coin-rich suburb of Evanston, on the northern border of Chicago, Illinois," the website said then. "Over the years, our store has accumulated a massive inventory of coin & collector treasures. Our constantly revolving stock includes, investment grade silver & gold, thousands of collector coins, proof and mint sets, rolls, currency, tokens, ancient coins, etc. From the common to the esoteric, you would not believe what comes through our doors sometimes! Be sure to visit often, as new stuff come in everyday," according to the website.
"Coin/Bullion dealers are not all created equal and we have always strived to be the kind of dealer who is enjoyable to do business with. The customers that walk into our store are given honest and courteous service, and our internet customers can count on the same," the website said.
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