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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2003

4 indicted in wake of thefts after tornadoes

VAN WERT, Ohio - Four Paulding County men have been charged with stealing property from victims of the November tornadoes that tore through northwest Ohio.

Sheriff Stan Owens said yesterday indictments had been returned by the Van Wert County grand jury against Nathan S. Brown, 18, of Oakwood, Ohio; Larry W. Mullins, Jr., 19, of Paulding, and Scott Chlebek, 20, of Oakwood. Each is charged with two counts of theft, a fourth-degree felony.

In addition, William E. Finch, 18, of Paulding was charged with two counts of theft in Van Wert County Juvenile Court. Mr. Finch was 17 when the alleged thefts occurred.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

According to the sheriff's office, the four men stole an all-terrain vehicle from property on State Rt. 637 and an engine and other auto parts from a resident of Doner Road. Both homes, near the Paulding County village of Grover Hill, suffered extensive damage in the tornado Nov. 10 that ripped across Van Wert County.

Carl Font reported the theft of the 2000 Arctic Cat four-wheeler on Nov. 29. Tyson Boroff notified authorities Dec. 25 the auto parts were missing, including a Chevrolet V-8 engine and three transmissions.

Detective Jim Hyitt of the Van Wert County sheriff's office said authorities suspect the group of committing similar thefts in Paulding County, which also suffered tornado damage.

He said authorities there helped lead Van Wert County deputies to the four suspects.

“All they were doing was traveling to the tornado sites, following the path, and they just saw something they wanted and stole it, and in Paulding they did the same thing there,” Detective Hyitt said. “You've got to feel bad for these people who lost about everything they ever had, and here somebody's stealing what they have left.”

Detective Hyitt said the two thefts were the only looting incidents reported in Van Wert County after the storm struck.

The Paulding County sheriff's deputy leading the investigation there wouldn't discuss the case.

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