Authorities say they still don't know what prompted a former policeman to steal.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Those seeking to join the Columbiana County Drug Task Force are being screened more carefully after the theft of nearly $19,000 from the agency by one of its officers, county Prosecutor Robert Herron said.
Eric Haueter, 24, of 834 N. Ellsworth Ave., Salem, faces a possible prison sentence after pleading guilty Tuesday to theft in office. Haueter was a task force member.
The drug task force is made up of officers from the county sheriff's department and police departments throughout the county.
Officials said Haueter, who served with the Salineville Police Department, joined the task force in November.
Felony charge: Haueter entered the plea to the third-degree felony before Judge David Tobin of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court. Judge Tobin set sentencing for Nov. 26 before Judge C. Ashley Pike, also of common pleas court.
The maximum penalty for the crime is five years in prison. But in exchange for Haueter's guilty plea, special prosecutor Eugene Muldowney of the Portage County Prosecutor's Office is recommending a two-year prison sentence.
After the court proceedings, Muldowney said Haueter acted alone in entering the task force's evidence room March 12 and removing $18,728 from a safe. The money was evidence seized in crimes the task force was investigating.
The theft was discovered March 13 by task force members.
Money returned: On March 14, Atty. James Taus of Salem, acting on Haueter's behalf, returned all but about $2,000 of the stolen money to Herron.
Herron's acceptance of the money made him a witness in the case and necessitated appointing a special prosecutor.
Muldowney said Haueter's father, Allen, a lieutenant with the county sheriff's department, and Eric's brother, Dan, New Waterford police chief, learned of the theft shortly after it occurred.
Muldowney said he thinks the father and brother played a role in persuading Haueter to return most of the stolen money.
It's unclear what happened to the nearly $2,000 that's unaccounted for. But Muldowney said Haueter, who is free on a personal recognizance bond, is expected to return it.
Jobs over: Haueter was suspended from the agency just before the theft of money was discovered, said Herron, refusing to elaborate. Haueter resigned from the police department about a week after the suspension.
Muldowney said the theft-in-office conviction prevents Haueter from serving as a lawman.
Haueter has refused to talk to investigators about the crime. Muldowney said he does not know what motivated him to take the money.
Besides screening task force applicants more carefully, the agency also is restricting access to its safe and is requiring the agency's director to spend more time in the office, supervising members, Herron said.