Croley faces rent hearing

By Patricia Meade

Sentencing for the animal cruelty charges is Thursday.

YOUNGSTOWN — The man who operated a kennel where dogs starved to death is due in municipal court today for failure to pay rent for the property once known as High Caliber K-9.

Matt Akenhead of Virginia, the owner of 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, said in court papers that Steve Croley and his wife agreed in January 2007 to pay $500 rent each month and now owe from May 2008 to the present. Notice was served to have them vacate the premises on Nov. 19.

Croley and his wife are in the process of a divorce that was filed Nov. 7.

A lawyer representing Akenhead said he has performed all obligations under the lease as a landlord and demands payment of rent, late fees, unpaid utilities and any expense incurred in removing any of Croley’s personal items or restoring the premises.

If Croley fails to show for this afternoon’s hearing with Magistrate Tony Sertick, judgment would be given to Akenhead. If Akenhead or his lawyer fail to show, the case would be dismissed, the court said.

After Croley was arrested on animal cruelty charges Oct. 22, the High Caliber K-9 sign in front of 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road was defaced with spray paint, as was the ranch-style house. Windows were also broken.

When taken into custody, Croley told a representative of Animal Charity, a humane agency on South Avenue, that he could not afford to feed the animals. After the arrest, dog owners came forward to say they paid him in advance.

After today’s hearing, Croley, 38, is due again in municipal court Thursday to be sentenced by Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. for animal cruelty. Seven dead and 12 starving dogs were found at the business Croley once operated.

Croley reached a plea agreement in December and pleaded no contest to four counts of animal cruelty. Two housing violations related to the condition of the High Caliber K-9 property were dismissed.

City Prosecutor Jay Macejko has said the plea agreement calls for: 30 days in jail on each count; restitution of $1,646 to Animal Charity, which rescued dogs from the property; and a provision that Croley not own or harbor animals during whatever probation period — one to five years — that may be imposed.

Judge Douglas told Croley, who is represented by Youngstown attorney Heidi Hanni, that the potential penalty for each count is up to 90 days in jail and $750 fine. The judge ordered a background investigation and set sentencing for Thursday.

“The court recognizes there were losses in this matter,” the judge said last month. Restitution to the owners of four dogs cited in the charges is expected.

Judge Douglas could sentence Croley to more time than worked out in the plea agreement. If that happens, Croley could withdraw his plea and the case proceed to trial, the prosecutor said.

Croley was originally arrested on 19 counts of animal cruelty but only four were filed. Macejko determined that the High Caliber K-9 property was illegally entered by representatives of Animal Charity, who used bolt cutters to cut a fence. The four counts relate to dogs seen before the fence was breached.

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