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Published: Thursday, 9/13/2007

Seneca Co. official pleads not guilty to theft

Bridinger Bridinger
AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge

TIFFIN - Seneca County Commissioner Mike Bridinger pleaded not guilty yesterday to one count of theft for allegedly stealing a $2.09 pack of Rolaids from a local grocery store on three occasions.

Tiffin attorney Dean Henry entered the written plea in Tiffin Municipal Court on behalf of Mr. Bridinger, 58, of rural Tiffin, who was charged Tuesday after meeting with police at their request. Chief Dave LaGrange said the commissioner was fingerprinted, photographed, then released on his own recognizance, which is standard practice for a misdemeanor like this.

According to a police report, Mr. Bridinger was captured on video surveillance at Heritage IGA on East Market Street, taking the Rolaids from a shelf, putting it into his right front pocket, and leaving the store without paying for the antacid at 9:16 a.m. Sept. 1, at 10:28 a.m. Sept. 7, and again at 1:11 p.m. Sunday. The store turned over the videotape to police on Monday, and Mr. Bridinger was called to come in and talk with them Tuesday.

"After looking at the videos, it appeared to be Mike Bridinger taking the items from the shelf," the report states. "Looking at the videos, it was very obvious Mr. Bridinger took the items and put them directly into his pocket walking down the aisle."

Mr. Bridinger declined to comment yesterday, instead referring questions to his attorney.

Mr. Henry, saying the allegation was "pretty bizarre," said he was anxious to see the evidence in the case.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," he said. "This certainly isn't a guy who needs to steal Rolaids. Mike's worked all his life. He's been gainfully employed and now he's a commissioner."

A Republican who took office Jan. 1, Mr. Bridinger has been the lone voice in support of saving and renovating Seneca

County's 1884 courthouse. He has cast dissenting votes on a number of decisions regarding the planned demolition of the shuttered courthouse and construction of a new building for the common pleas courts.

The theft charge is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on the misdemeanor would not preclude Mr. Bridinger from holding office, Mr. Henry said.

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