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Published: Saturday, 12/30/2006

Grill firm employee sentenced for theft

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Hack Hack
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At his sentencing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, George Hack was portrayed as a family man who cares about his community and as a lying thief.

Once a trusted employee of a local gas grill and fireplace company, Hack was ordered yesterday to pay back $131,400 he stole from his employer over a six-year period. He was sentenced to 100 days in work release and five years of probation.

The sentence ended several years of distrust and betrayal felt by Hack's employers, Jim and Gary Staebell, owners of the bankrupt H.E.A.T. Distributors of Toledo. Hack, 42, of 2253 Goddard Rd. pleaded no contest in August to a count of felony theft.

"It's easy to be generous and charitable and look like a great guy when you're spending someone else's money. That's the public George Hack," Jim Vail, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, said in court. "He has enormous regret. You know what his regret is? Like every other thief who comes in here, he regrets he got caught."

Gary Staebell said Hack came to work for his family business about 13 years ago to handle the financial matters. The men became close friends.

That's before he learned that Hack stole thousands of dollars from his business between December, 1997, and August, 2003.

Yesterday, Mr. Staebell told Judge Charles Wittenberg that he and his brother never thought to look over their employee's shoulder because they trusted him.

"The fact of the matter is that Jim and Gary didn't do this to George," Mr. Staebell said in court. "George did this to Jim and Gary. George did this to our family. George did this to his family. I guess the main point is that George did this to himself."

With a courtroom full of family members and friends to support him, Hack said he regretted his actions and pledged to conduct his affairs appropriately.

His attorney, Jon Richardson, said afterward that although the company declared bankruptcy, the failure of H.E.A.T. Distributors cannot be blamed on Hack. Instead, he said the business went under because of the owners' inability to stay updated. The allegation that Hack "caused the business to go under is simply fantasy," he said.

Jim Staebell disagreed. Started by his father in 1948, the company withstood a lot before a lack of funds forced the brothers to close the operation.

"In our last two days of business, when we were letting people go left and right, he spent over $1,000 on a personal car repair," he said. "I worked at that company since 1972. I wanted to believe it would last forever."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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