Grove City Record

Fraudulent solicitor sentenced to 3 years in prison

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The man who impersonated a police officer to solicit donations from businesses across Ohio, including several in Grove City, has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Joseph E. Steward, 45, of Columbus, pleaded guilty in June to charges of impersonating a police officer, tampering with records and illegally soliciting for a charity.

On Monday, Aug. 11, he was sentenced to three years in prison by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard S. Sheward and ordered to pay $1,577 in restitution. Charges of theft and identity theft were dropped.

He will be incarcerated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in Orient.

Steward was arrested in October in Toledo after he reportedly approached several businesses in Grove City and identified himself as a police officer collecting cash donations for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that supports veterans who suffered physical and mental injuries on or after 9/11.

The Wounded Warrior Project does not solicit donations door-to-door.

Steward also was reported to have operated the scam for at least a year in a number of Ohio counties and at the time of his arrest, had active warrants for arrest from the Columbus Division of Police and the Madison County Sheriff's Office.

In Grove City, after it was reported he tried to solicit money Oct. 3 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 and said they gave Steward money when he solicited them, Grove City police said.

Additional 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.

The number of people who gave money to Steward in the Columbus area was suspected to be hundreds, with amounts ranging from $10 to $40.

"The sad part about this is, (it's) people taking advantage of people being good-hearted," said Grove City Police Capt. Jeff Pearson. "Citizens do need to protect themselves so they don't get taken advantage of."

Pearson said when residents are approached by people soliciting money, they need to find out what organization those people are collecting for and verify it.

"That person should have contact information (for that organization)," he said. "Try to avoid giving anything on that initial contact."

The thing people need to be wary of, Pearson said, is someone asking directly for cash. And in this age of identity theft, giving out checks can be dangerous as well because of the personal information they contain.

If they become suspicious, residents should call the police, and the police will check the legitimacy of a solicitor and whether they have or need a permit, Pearson said.

"A permit is required for door-to-door solicitation (in Grove City) but there are some exceptions," he said.

Religious, political and charitable groups that are canvassing -- going door-to-door to talk to people but not collecting money -- don't require permits

For more information, contact police at 614-277-1710.

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