WARREN - A Champion man believes he is being unfairly targeted by prosecutors and the Trumbull County Sheriff's Office because of his long-standing dispute with the county health department.
Berry Meadows, 59, 4581 Templeton Road N.W., believes sheriff's investigators brought felony charges against him in a nearly five-year-old dispute with Meadows' former clients despite the alleged victims saying they never contacted authorities to pursue charges.
Sheriff Thomas Altiere said the complaint that Meadows embezzled $7,000 from a former client who hired him in June 2007 to install a septic tank was brought to their attention through the department's Senior Service Unit and not the victims.
Meadows' attorney, David Engler, in a court filing, alleged that the charges were brought because Meadows had posted on a website public records of a part-time health department attorney's property and the property bought by Altiere's son.
Meadows accused both of receiving preferential treatment.
Altiere said, however, his son never received preferential treatment and had only recently moved into the house after purchasing the property in January 2011.
Meadows, in the court filings, also alleges that attorney Rob Kokor, who works part-time on cases for the health department, was allowed a free home inspection.
Records independently obtained by the Tribune Chronicle show that Kokor was billed $0 for the home inspection in January 2011, but eventually paid the fee four days after Meadows made a records request for documentation to see if Kokor paid for it. Kokor paid the standard $250 fee on Feb. 1, 2012.
Kokor declined comment. Trumbull County Health Department director of environmental health, Frank Migliozzi, said Kokor utilized the voluntary septic inspection program offered to residents who wanted to bypass the inspection because they knew their septic system would fail.
Migliozzi said if someone takes advantage of that program, their fee is deferred until their application is submitted, which is when Kokor paid the fee.
Engler, however, said he believes that Kokor never enrolled in the program, and records in the file do not detail whether Kokor enrolled.
"What they said, was in fact, a coverup," Engler said. "It's just not true."
Meadows is facing a felony theft-by-deception charge in Warren Municipal Court. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing today. He is also facing a felony theft charge in Niles Municipal Court. That case is set for a preliminary hearing June 20.
He also has several past and pending lawsuits regarding public records and other disputes with the health department and former clients.
Health department, sheriff's department and court records state Meadows has been in a long-standing dispute with the health department because he believes they created a monopoly on the type of septic system that is authorized to be installed in the county. Meadows, who owns a septic installation business, Digging Dirt LLC, believes he created a septic system that would save residents money.
Meadows, according to records, created the Facebook page "Trumbull County Septic News," where he posts videos of health department meetings at which he asks the board questions about public records he obtained.
Meadows, in one case, requested the file for Kokor's property at 5960 Mines Road in Howland. The file, obtained by the Tribune Chronicle, shows that an application for evaluation of a home sewage system or point of sale-retail transfer submitted Dec. 28, 2010, with no fee charged. Kokor's sewage system was disapproved after the inspection.
Meadows requested the payment receipt for the inspection and on Jan. 27 this year the health department wrote him a response saying there was no such record. Five days later, the file shows a receipt for the standard $250 for the inspection.
Meadows also requested the file for Nick Altiere's 5555 Oak Hill Drive, Champion property. Engler's filing alleges the health department allowed a non-compliant septic system to go without an ordered follow-up.
That file, also obtained independently by the Tribune Chronicle, could not substantiate that claim. The file shows an inspection on Jan. 10 failed. Sheriff Altiere said the property remained vacant until last week when his son began moving in.
The criminal case in Warren stems from an allegation that Meadows in 2008 agreed to install the septic system at 2959 state Route 5 in Leavittsburg for William Ball and Angel Bennett of Vienna.
A sheriff's department criminal report from March 22 of this year said Bennett and Ball "came in" and filed a complaint against Meadows.
The two said they agreed to pay Meadows $14,000 for the work, which was held in escrow until half was released so Meadows could start the project. Reports said all Meadows did was mark the digging area. Another company eventually finished the project.
Ball and Bennett sued Meadows for the $7,000 and a lawsuit is pending in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Bennett said Tuesday that she never contacted the sheriff's office to file criminal charges.
"They called me and asked if I could come in," Bennett said. "I told them things that were going on in the other case."
Bennett said she didn't want to answer anymore questions and referred inquiries to Ball, who never returned a phone message.
The sheriff's report said investigators talked to assistant county prosecutor Chris Becker, who referred them to Kokor to "work with our office on this matter."
"He was targeted because he stole money from people," Altiere said. "There's three cases that I know of. We always investigate when someone embezzles $7,000."