The man suspected of impersonating a police officer to solicit charitable donations from Grove City businesses was arrested last week in northern Ohio, police announced.
Joseph E. Steward, 45, of South Central Avenue in Columbus, was arrested on Oct. 17, in Toledo and is currently in the Lucas County jail, said Grove City Police Detective Jeff VanBuskirk.
Steward is reported to have approached several businesses in Grove City in October, identifying himself as a police officer and asking for cash donations, claiming he represented the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization which supports veterans who suffered physical and mental injuries on or after Sept. 11.
Warrants for Steward's arrest were issued not only through the Grove City Police but also through the Columbus Division of Police and the Madison County Sheriff's Office. VanBuskirk said investigators estimate Steward has been operating at least a year throughout several Ohio counties.
Currently, Steward faces a misdemeanor charge in Grove City, but VanBuskirk said Grove City police are working with other jurisdictions to build a larger felony case in the next few weeks.
"There will be bigger charges down the road," he said. "We're trying to gather up all the victims."
After it was reported he on Oct. 3 tried to solicit money from the Fast Stop Drive Thru, 3188 Southwest Blvd., and MTK Detailing, 3184 Southwest Blvd., other businesses and a resident of Willow Lake Drive have come forward to the police to say gave Steward money when he solicited them. The businesses Steward reportedly solicited include Mascaris Automotive Service, 3586 Broadway; ABC Pools , 3481 Broadway; Parker's Tavern, 3998 Broadway; and Grove City Firestone, 3070 Southwest Blvd.
Amounts given range from $10 to $40.
The number of people in Columbus who gave money is believed to be hundreds, said VanBuskirk, adding that while most people gave small amounts, it's important they come forward to report it.
"Everything matters," he said.
Another man reportedly was driving Steward between the Grove City businesses Oct. 3, but that person has not been identified, VanBuskirki said.
Grove City Police Chief Steve Robinette said it is not uncommon for criminals to solicit donations by claiming they represent legitimate organizations, although the impersonation of an officer to do so is more rare. When donating through solicitors, residents need to verify that money is going to the right place, Robinette said.
"Anytime somebody's asking for donations for donations, they should be able to provide identification," he said.
People and businesses who gave money to Steward are encouraged by the police to report it by calling 614-277-1710.