By Ashley Luthern
When the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force announced the arrest of eight people tied to a large-scale burglary ring Tuesday, the connection to narcotics couldn’t be missed.
“Heroin’s king now, it seems,” said Martin P. Desmond, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor.
Desmond said items stolen in burglaries were sold and the money used to purchase heroin.
The task force made the arrest announcement at its Boardman office, where a conference room was packed with recovered stolen property that will be used as evidence.
Poland Detective Greg Wilson, the case’s lead investigator, said evidence connects the suspects with 16 burglaries throughout Poland Township, Springfield, Struthers, Boardman, Youngstown, New Middletown and Girard.
All the burglaries had the same method of operation: “Daytime, forced entry, stealing only items they carry, like jewelry and computers,” Wilson said.
John Woods, of New Middletown, is charged with 13 counts of burglary; Erin King Jr., of Youngstown, is charged with three counts of burglary; Katie Grist, of Springfield, is charged with six counts of burglary and one theft count; and Grant Repasky, of Springfield, is charged with 10 burglary counts.
The task force alleges that once these suspects burglarized a home, they would sell stolen jewelry mainly to Dominic Eckman at Leslie’s Precious Metals, 890 E. Midlothian Blvd., Wilson said.
Dominic Eckman of Poland is charged with two felony counts of receiving stolen property and two misdemeanor counts of receiving stolen property; Alexis Norman, of Youngstown, is charged with felony receiving stolen property; and Leslie Eckman is facing one misdemeanor count related to records and bookkeeping.
The money obtained from the sale was then used to purchase heroin that Jamal Vaughn, of Youngstown, is accused of dealing, officials said. He is charged with seven counts of drug trafficking.
Sometimes, individuals would trade stolen goods, such as computers, to Vaughn for drugs.
Wilson said the physical effects of heroin withdrawal are so strong that users constantly feel the need to feed their addiction at any cost.
With the exception of Norman and Leslie Eckman, all suspects also are charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. The eight accused were secretly indicted last week after a nine-month long investigation, and Desmond said they should all be arraigned next week.
Desmond said the misdemeanor record keeping charge is based on law that requires precious metals dealers to keep detailed records of what comes in their store. In this case, the accused are said to have simply written “scrap gold” or “scrap metal” as the item description.
Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley and other law enforcement officials praised the collaborative efforts of the task force and said that criminal activity spans the Mahoning Valley.
Often drugs are sold in the city, and then taken out to the suburbs for use by residents there, Foley said.
He added that while the crimes might not have been violent, they weren’t victimless.
“We all believe in the sanctity of the home as a castle,” Foley said.
When that sanctity is violated, he said, it creates fear and decreases the quality of life in neighborhoods.