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Ex-cop gets probation, community service for involvement in ammo resale scheme

| April 19, 2024
Jeffrey Stearns, 49, of Port Washington reads a statement at his sentencing in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court for telecommunications fraud. (WJER Radio)

NEW PHILADELPHIA (WJER) (April 19, 2024) – The former Bolivar police officer convicted of telecommunications fraud for his role in an ammunition resale scheme is beginning his punishment after sharing his side of the story.

Jeffrey Stearns of Port Washington will spend five years on probation and must complete 150 hours of community service for ordering rounds using the police department’s discounts and tax-exempt status that GNR Tactical store owner Grant Timberlake picked up and sold for a profit. Stearns’ attorney told Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Ernest that his client was duped into believing the ammo would be given to area law enforcement agencies.

“What Mr. Stearns did not know – and this has been his contention from Day 1 – was that Mr. Timberlake was actually taking the ammunition and not donating it to any police agencies, as the auditor’s office has confirmed through contacting all of them, but rather he was selling it for a profit at his store.”

Stearns was represented by Attorney Matthew Mullens, who read from the minutes of the Bolivar council meeting where members authorized the transaction. He sent the village a subpoena and public records request seeking text messages and emails related to the deal but never received any.

“Not only did we not get a single email or text back but Bolivar hired an attorney and filed a motion to quash that subpoena and said all of those records were gone.”

Stearns left Bolivar to work for the Sugarcreek Police Department and resigned after being placed on unpaid leave over the allegations. Former mayor Jeff Stutzman still thinks it was a good hire.

“He was very transparent when we did the interview. He told us exactly what was going on in Bolivar for what he knew. Looking back on it I think he just got in the wrong situation with the wrong people, and Jeff Stearns is the kind of guy who takes people at face value.”

Stearns handed over his Ohio peace officer’s certification in December. He’s also banned from public employment during his probationary period, which means Port Washington Mayor Thomas Gardner will have to delay his retirement or pick another potential successor. 

“I have been grooming him without his wife’s knowledge to be mayor sometime, but that’s how I feel about him. He’s able to control the situation. He’s able to lead, and he would be a good replacement.”

Stearns says putting his trust in Timberlake cost him almost everything including his career, retirement, and dignity.

“I’m a broken shell of a once good, decent, trusting man who will forever be labeled a criminal, a felon. I’ll carry that burden and the stigma that comes with it for the rest of my life.” 

Ernest was sympathetic but thought he should have known better.

“It may seem overly harsh. It may seem unfair but that’s what happens when you are a public employee. It is a higher standard. It is inappropriate to engage in certain conduct.”

Stearns has also been ordered to reimburse the village and the state for nearly $3,000 in audit costs. Timberlake is in the Tuscarawas County Jail serving the first of three 30-day terms as part of his punishment which also includes two years of supervision, a $1,000 fine, and 75 hours of community service.

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