Probation for jewel thieves

WARREN – A judge warned a Mineral Ridge couple that their heroin addiction was at the root of their crime spree and he would only give them one final chance before threatening them with seven years behind bars.

Geri L. Balch, 23, wept and her husband Ricky Snyder, 32, tried to hide from photographers as Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay sentenced both Wednesday to five years intensive supervised probation that includes drug and alcohol testing.

The probation is preceded by 60 days in Trumbull County Jail and a five- to six-month stint in the NorthEast Ohio Community Alternative Program, a multi-county work release program.

McKay also ordered each defendant to pay half the cost of the jewelry they stole last year from a home where Balch was working as a housekeeper. The price tag on restitution was $106,000 each. But McKay even reminded the victims in the case it was doubtful that the figure would ever be paid completely.

”It was a long 13 months of patience with the justice system. I just wonder why they can’t prosecute the buyers of the jewelry they stole,” said Alda Lee Battista, whose family operates Gene’s Jewelers on North Park Avenue.

Balch worked as a housekeeper for Battista in the family’s Country Club N.E. home, and the family ended up setting up security cameras inside the home after they suspected the thefts.

”At one point she said she had to leave early and she brought her husband in to finish some work,” Battista said. ”I know they have at least one child.”

A search warrant at the couple’s Mineral Ridge home was used to recover some of the merchandise after the Oct. 17 theft that included seven necklaces, sets of earrings, eight bracelets and a jewelry box containing other pieces.

”If you watch the video, you can see (Balch) ignoring one jewelry box that included costume jewelry. She went right to a hat box where the other stuff was kept,” said Patricia Fleeger, current owner-manager of the downtown jewelry shop.

Fleeger and Battista said they have reason to believe some of the pieces still missing were broken apart and the valuable stones were sold off elsewhere. They said some of the pieces are believed to be in Texas.

Both defendants pleaded guilty in July to theft from an elderly person, a second-degree felony. Each had been out on bond undergoing a pre-sentence investigation.