The theft of anti-wind petitions from a local eatery has resulted in criminal charges against a Bloomville man. His wife, an employee of the wind farm developer Apex Clean Energy, has been placed on administrative leave by the company.
According to the Bucyrus Police Department, the theft was reported shortly after 1 p.m. Feb. 25 at LuLu’s Kitchen, 1640 Marion Road.
On Wednesday, John Stockmeister, 35, of Bloomville, was charged with theft, a first-degree misdemeanor, according to Bucyrus police Capt. Kevin Wert, who investigated the case. Stockmeister faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
His wife, who was with him at the time of the incident but was not charged, has been listed as a contact person for several events sponsored in the community by Apex.
On Thursday, Cat Strumlauf, director of corporate communications for Apex, said the company has launched an internal investigation into the allegations.
“In the interim, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave,” she said. “We take the allegations seriously and stand by our corporate values of always acting with integrity and professionalism.”
Folder with petitions, pamphlets stolen from restaurant counter
The incident was reported by Roger and Kay Weisenauer of Bloomville, according the the police report. The Weisenauers are active members of Crawford Anti-Wind, a local grassroots group that opposes development of Honey Creek Wind in northern Crawford County by Apex.
Wert said that when he went to LuLu’s to investigate the theft, he was told someone had taken a folder containing multiple petitions and a stack of pamphlets that were sitting on the checkout counter.
Crawford Anti-Wind’s petitions, directed to the trustees of each township, request that they in turn ask the Crawford County commissioners to declare the county a restricted zone, preventing wind farm development. At a drive-thru signing event on Saturday, volunteers worked with similar folders full of petitions – one petition for each township in the county. Signers were asked their township of residence, then handed the appropriate petition.
At LuLu’s, Wert said, he was told that the suspect in the theft had used a credit card to pay his bill, so the restaurant was able to provide a name.
“I contacted him by phone,” Wert said. “I asked him to bring them back. He said he would. … So I came back in the next day, expecting to find the documents because he said he would drop them off, and they weren’t here.”
Petitions were dropped off at the sheriff’s office
Then he got a call from one of Weisenauers, who told him “somebody from the sheriff’s office called one of the other members of the group reporting that somebody had dropped off petitions there that they said they found in the snow or on the ground or something. It turned out to be the petitions from LuLu’s, so the guy had taken them out there instead of bringing them here and told them that he found them,” Wert said.
“In the meantime, I had kind of looked into just some public records on the internet and found out that his wife had worked for or works for Apex and that his name was on a couple of the leases … up in southern Seneca County,” he said. “So to me that kind of showed a motive.”
LuLu’s also was able to provide security video of the incident, he said.
“From there, the complainants said they wanted to press charges, so we issued a summons for theft,” Wert said.
According to public records from the Seneca County recorder’s website, a lease agreement between John and Leonard Stockmeister and Emerson West Wind LLC was recorded on Oct. 13, 2017. After the lease was recorded, it was returned to Apex Clean Energy, according to the website.
Apex’s website lists Emerson West Wind as one of its projects.
County prosecutor: ‘There’s a lot of confusion’
Crawford County Prosecutor Matt Crall said the case is not being prosecuted by his office – since it happened in the city, it falls within the jurisdiction of the city law director’s office. For his office to have jurisdiction, the value in a theft case would have to be more than $1,000.
“There’s a lot of confusion around all of the wind issues,” Crall said. “There is no petition to put anything on the ballot currently, and a lot of people seem to think that these are government documents that were stolen. No, these are just individual citizens who wish to express their opinion, as they have every right to do.”
At the signing event on Saturday, Sandusky Township resident Lynette Moritz, one of Crawford Anti-Wind’s leaders, explained that if commissioners declare the county a restricted zone, Ohio law would allow wind proponents to circulate their own petitions to have a referendum on that decision placed on the ballot – giving all county resident a chance to vote on the issue.
LuLu’s is one of several locations where people are able to sign petitions throughout the week, group members have said.
Brian Gernert, Bucyrus’ interim law director, could not be reached for comment Friday morning.
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