A nine-county theft-ring case will not go to trial today, as scheduled, after the ring leaders accepted plea deals with Delaware County prosecutors and changed their pleas to guilty.
Five members of the ring were scheduled to go on trial before a Delaware County jury today. Three other members have already pleaded guilty after also reaching plea agreements with prosecutors.
The five remaining defendants in the case — including the three leaders — changed their pleas to guilty Monday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
They are Wendy Emmons, 46, formerly of Marion; Justin Emmons, 26, of Marion; Jordan Emmons, 24, of Marion; Philip Burkholder, 83, of Forest, Ohio; and Brittany Chafin, 24, of 74 Griswold St., Delaware.
Each pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a second-degree felony.
Prosecutors said that the Emmons family — Wendy and her two sons —were the leaders of a theft ring that spanned nine Ohio counties.
Burkholder had been facing a first-degree felony charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and three counts of money laundering, third-degree felonies. The Emmonses were all facing charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, money laundering and theft. Except for the corrupt-activity charges, the other charges were dropped.
Chafin, along with three others — Stevie Henry, 26, Sasha Steele, 24, and Michael Jenkins, 32, all of Marion — were the thieves in the group, according to prosecutors. Henry, Steele and Jenkins earlier pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, a third-degree felony, and two charges of theft, fifth-degree felonies.
Prosecutors said the Emmons family would get their friends addicted to drugs, specifically heroin, and coerce them to steal to support their habits.
As a condition of Monday’s plea agreements, Burkholder and the Emmonses agreed to pay $48,665 in restitution. Burkholder’s attorney, Christopher Soon, said Monday that Burkholder would be selling his house to pay his share of the restitution.
Burkholder, Chafin and the Emmonses will be sentenced by Judge Everett Krueger on March 14.
Prosecutors said that a condition of the Emmonses’ plea agreements is a recommendation by defense and prosecuting attorneys that each family member be sentenced to five years in prison. Krueger said he is not bound to accept the terms of the agreement and will sentence them as he sees fit at the March hearing.
Justin and Wendy Emmons were in the Delaware County Jail Monday afternoon. Jordan Emmons, Chafin and Burkholder were out on bond.
The thieves testified that they would go to stores like Kroger and fill shopping carts with small but valuable items, like candy, laundry pods or fishing lures, and leave the store without paying. The thieves would then take the merchandise to Burkholder who would sell the stolen goods at auction.
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.
Henry and Steele both were sentenced to four years of probation earlier as part of their plea agreements. Both told Krueger that they had gotten clean from heroin and were working to regain custody of their children.
Jenkins will be sentenced on Feb. 8 at 8:30 a.m.
The entire group was originally scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 15 but the trial was postponed after Henry, Steele and Jenkins changed their pleas. Their plea deals required them to testify against the other members of the ring.
The eight members of the theft ring were indicted on Sept. 18 by a Delaware County grand jury.
The investigation was led by the Organized Crime Investigations Commission division of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in connection with several law enforcement agencies, including the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.