Ex-city worker found guilty of petty theft

WARREN — The city employee accused of taking a lawn mower without permission pleaded no contest and was found guilty of petty theft by Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem during a hearing Wednesday.

Longtime city employee Dennis Griffing, 57, received a $100 fine and was sentenced to 180 days in the Trumbull County jail on Wednesday, but the jail time was suspended.

With the conclusion of the criminal court case, Griffing’s job was terminated as a result of a July 18 agreement made by Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa, Griffing and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) , which represented him.

In the city’s June disciplinary hearing, Griffing was charged with theft, gross misconduct and violating a section of the the AFSCME Local 74 Collective Bargaining agreement.

Although in the settlement agreement Griffing maintained a presumption of innocence as far as any criminal court procedings, city officials believed the administrative charges were egregious enough to warrant termination.

Griffing’s employment with the city was terminated, but his last day was to coincide with Griffing’s conviction in connection with the theft of the lawn mower.

Griffing, 72 Kings Drive SW, has been an employed with the city since Oct. 4, 1988, which means he has worked for the city just a few weeks short of 30 years. On Sept. 5, Griffing delivered to the city a letter saying he would retire Sept. 30.

However, based on the guilty verdict given by Gysegem on Wednesday, the former city employee may have fallen weeks short of the 30 years needed to receive his full pension.

“That is something the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System will have to determine,” Cantalamessa said. “My decision had nothing to do with his retirement.”

Officials with the OPERS could not comment on Griffing’s specific case, and said there are factors that may allow him to obtain his full unreduced pension, including finding another OPERS qualifying job so he would qualify for an unreduced amount, or previously having an OPERS qualifing job prior to working for the city.

Cantalamessa noted because the city did not want to go into arbitration over when the termination would begin, it was agreed by all sides it would better to allow the court process to be completed before his termination in case he was found not guilty in the criminal case.

Griffing was charged with petty theft in connection to his using a lawn mower that was obtained by police during an investigation of a series of home burglaries. The lawn mower was one of several items retrieved during the arrest of the person charged in the burglaries.

During transport to a site where police held the the evidence, the lawn mower was separated from the other items and left at the operations department. It was when the city was planning to return the mower to its owner that it was determined to be missing. It was returned.

Griffing also was convicted in 2013 of stealing a large number of newspapers over a year’s time from Tribune Chronicle coin boxes.

He still owes the Tribune Chronicle $1,705.50 of the $2,235.50 he was ordered to repay the newspaper in restitution for the thefts.

Griffing had admitted to police at the time that he routinely stole stacks of newspapers out of different coin boxes and gave them to fellow city employees over a period of months.

He pleaded no contest to a charge of theft in 2013 and was placed into a diversion program by Municipal Court Judge Terry Ivanchak that allowed for the charge to be dismissed. Griffing was told that if he completed the diversion program and made full restitution, the case against him would be satisfied.