An HIV-positive Flint, Michigan, man who has volunteered for Democrat Mayor Sheldon Neeley was arraigned on Thursday and charged with grooming and raping a child with the intent to spread his potentially deadly infection.
In a video posted to social media, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson announced that the Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team (GHOST) arrested 55-year-old John Cole on charges of a dozen sexual crimes.
Cole “was known as a member of the community who, like many others, occasionally showed up to volunteer for the mayoral campaign,” the mayor’s office said in a statement shared with The Daily Wire, adding that he was “never employed by the city of Flint or the Neeley campaign.”
Cole, who until recently went by John Peters, was previously convicted of not telling partners that he has HIV before engaging in sex with them and served seven years in prison, according to Swanson. The convicted felon has now been charged with 12 counts, including one count of child sexually abusive activity and three counts of accosting a child for immoral purposes, ABC 12 reported.
Swanson called Cole a “groomer” and a “predator,” accusing the Flint man of using cunning tactics to befriend a minor at a community event in December 2022 before he later allegedly sexually assaulted the victim. Cole allegedly connected with the minor because they shared a birthday.
“Predators are always looking for some type of connection,” Swanson said. “That’s their grooming tactic. So they use that in order to get into where they can perform their sexual acts and take away the innocence of these individuals, and in this case, infect them with a fatal disease in many cases.”
In February, Cole allegedly picked up the victim to go watch a high school basketball game. However, on their way to the game, Cole “diverted” to a business in Flint and “aggressively started to sexually assault the young victim,” the sheriff said. Then in March, Cole allegedly assaulted the minor victim again at a bowling alley.
Swanson said his department was made aware of Cole’s alleged sexual assaults last month when the family of the victim came forward with the allegations.
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“As soon as we heard the name Johnny Peters trying to be camouflaged with another innocent name of John Cole, we knew exactly the intent,” Swanson said.
The sheriff then showed screenshots of text messages allegedly sent by Cole to the victim. One message allegedly shows Cole telling the victim, “Listen, don’t even worry about that. I’ll give you money. You buy your own games. You should’ve called me I’m trying to take care of you. I’m not playing any games. I give you the money. You [buy] your own Playstation, whatever you want but you gotta do your part.”
In another message, Cole allegedly sent pictures of hundreds of dollars in cash to the victim with the message “Call me.” Swanson called Cole “one of the most vile” groomers he’s arrested in his nearly 40 years of being in law enforcement.
“This is going on 35 years and he’s still doing what he does,” Swanson said.
Cole strongly supported Flint Democrat Mayor Sheldon Neeley and had volunteered for his campaign in the past. Photos posted online showed Cole at Neeley’s election night party and posing for a picture with the mayor.
“Political antagonists may try to embellish this association and make it more than it is,” Neeley’s office said.
“Cole seems to have presented himself as a close associate of the mayor in order to ingratiate himself to other community members, but in reality, he was an incidental acquaintance,” the statement added. “We are focused on supporting the victims and raising awareness about how to protect the most vulnerable members of our community from these types of abuses.”
The Democrat mayor has not answered a Daily Wire inquiry into whether Neeley’s office knew about Cole’s previous conviction and imprisonment for sex crimes before it allowed him to volunteer for the mayor’s campaign.
Sheriff Swanson ended his video by asking for anyone who either had consensual sex with Cole or was victimized by his alleged grooming to come forward.
“We want to help you. We want to protect you,” Swanson said. “We want to help get your message out, get your voice protected, but also hold him accountable.”