Another thief in a nine-county central Ohio theft ring changed her plea Friday and was found guilty of money laundering and theft charges.
Sasha L. Steele, 24, of Marion, told Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Everett Krueger on Friday that she was motivated by a drug habit when she stole items from a Kroger in Delaware and another in Richland County.
Steele told the court that she would fill shopping carts full of candy bars and leave the store without paying for them. Then she would drive them to Philip Burkholder, 82, in Forest, Ohio, who would buy the items and sell them at auction.
Steele is one of the theft ring’s four thieves and the second to plead guilty.
Steele pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering, which is a third-degree felony, and two counts of theft, fifth-degree felonies.
As part of plea negotiations, a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony, was dropped. Steele also agreed to testify against others accused in the theft ring when they go to trial. As part of the agreement, prosecutors said they would not advocate for prison time.
Krueger accepted the agreement and found Steele guilty of the charges. He scheduled a sentencing date of Jan. 25 at 10:30 a.m.
Steele’s attorney, Scott A Wolf, asked Krueger to modify Steele’s bond and release her from jail so she can begin working on a case in Marion to get custody of her daughter.
Steele told the judge she has been sober since her arrest in October and has been attending substance abuse support groups in the Delaware County Jail.
Assistant county prosecutor Doug Dumolt told Krueger that releasing her would be a good way to see if she is capable of staying clean on probation; however, he said he is worried that she would relapse and some of the conditions of the plea agreement are void if she is found to be abusing drugs again.
Krueger decided to continue the $10,000 bond and Steele was returned to the Delaware County Jail.
The Ohio Revised Code states that a third-degree felony can carry a prison sentence of 12 to 60 months or a fine of up to $15,000; the fifth-degree felonies can carry prison terms of up to six to 12 months and a fine of up to $7,500.
Another thief in the ring, Stevie Rea Henry, 26, of Marion, pleaded guilty Tuesday to identical charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan 25 at 11 a.m.
Trials for the remaining six defendants in the case, including the three ring leaders, have been rescheduled for Feb. 2.
Justin, Wendy and Jordan Emmons are alleged to be the leaders of a theft ring that stretched across central Ohio. Prosecutors say the Emmonses would recruit friends, get them addicted to drugs and then force them to steal in order to support their habits.
Prosecutors allege the ring is responsible for stealing between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of goods from stores in Delaware, Crawford, Seneca, Richland, Marion, Franklin, Morrow, Hancock and Logan counties.