Saturday, May 24, 2003

Police say theft ring thwarted

Teenager, girlfriend arrested in series of 18 break-ins in Bethel

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer



BETHEL - A ring of thieves suspected of committing break-ins at 18 Bethel businesses in the last three months - and possibly other break-ins throughout Clermont County - has been crippled, officials said Friday.

Jason Lee Herndon, 18, of Bethel, and his girlfriend, Sadie Bennett Swartz, 19, also of Bethel, have been arrested in connection with the burglaries, which authorities say may have cost victims as much as $50,000 in cash and property damage. Authorities said the investigation is continuing and more arrests are possible.

Herndon has been indicted on 11 counts of breaking and entering. On Friday, he was ordered detained in the Clermont County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.

Swartz, who is charged with five counts of complicity to commit breaking and entering, could go before a grand jury next week. She is being held in lieu of $50,000 bond.

Bethel Police Chief George Schramm announced the arrests during a news conference in Bethel's village council chambers Friday.

Flanked by Clermont County Sheriff A.J. "Tim" Rodenberg Jr., Bethel Mayor Judy Spiller and Clermont County sheriff's Detective Mark Penn, Schramm said about 18 businesses in Bethel have been broken into - some more than once.

The thieves would strike at night, taking money and ransacking the business.

They mainly entered through broken windows and doors, although in one case, investigators found that someone had crawled through an air vent that connected one business to another.

Penn, the lead investigator, said none of the money has been recovered.

In at least one instance, the thieves were able to divert responding police officers from their crimes.

"They set off an alarm at a business on the south side of the village, and while we were responding to that, they broke into two businesses on the north side of the village," Schramm said.

Bethel is a village of 2,640 people. The police department has four full-time officers, including the chief, and seven auxiliary officers.

"The sheriff's office assigned a deputy to strictly patrol (Bethel's) businesses," Schramm said, adding that as many as six detectives from the sheriff's department also joined in the investigations.

In addition, tips from about 20 Bethel residents and from residents of other areas affected by break-ins, and a shoe print left at one of the break-ins helped to narrow police focus onto Herndon.

Investigators believe Herndon would break in while Swartz would drive the getaway car, adding that these same individuals may be connected to break-ins of other homes and vehicles throughout the county.

For business owners such as Teresa Marlow, owner of Bethel Floral Boutique, the arrests are welcome news. "I hope the right steps are taken and justice will be done," she said. "I'm more cautious when I enter the store now and I leave all the lights on at night."

Mary Berryman, owner of the Bethel Hair-Do Shoppe, had her hair salon burglarized twice. The thieves made off with more than $700. Though relieved by the arrests, she is still concerned about her store.

"The police are patrolling more and that's good. But, I've started patrolling my own business, as well; so have my customers and some of the employees," she said. "We have our own little patrol group going."


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