Sentenced for crime spree

Thelma Fowler, middle, and Michelle Betz in
Judge Pollex’s courtroom. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)

Two of the three "leaders" of a crime spree which spread across six
counties in Ohio, four counties in Michigan and two counties in Indiana were
sentenced Tuesday morning in Wood County Common Pleas Court.
Thelma Fowler, 69, of Temperance, Mich., was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her
daughter-in-law, Michelle Betz, 43, of Sylvania, was ordered to serve five
years. Both women had previously accepted plea agreements and pleaded guilty to
engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, money laundering, trafficking in or
illegal use of food stamps and receiving stolen property.
As part of the plea agreement, a second food stamp charge and three additional stolen
property counts were dismissed for both defendants.
Fowler’s son, who is Betz’ husband, Herbie Betz, has been found guilty of eight
similar charges by a jury. His sentencing is set for June 26.
The case involves more than $500,000 in stolen merchandise and more than 60 other
co-defendants. The crime spree dates to 2008, with most of the indictments
issued last Sept. 7.
Many of the co-defendants would steal merchandise from various retailers, including
many along the U.S. 20 corridor in Perrysburg, both the city and township as
well as Rossford. The merchandise would later be returned to the store or
another location for that retailer for store gift cards.
In turn, the gift cards would be sold to the women through Fowler’s Lil Sheba bar on
Alexis Road in Toledo, where they would receive half the value in cash. The
funds received from Fowler and Betz were then used to feed drug habits of some
co-defendants. Various defendants had different roles in the process.
Gwen Howe-Gebers, an assistant Wood County prosecuting attorney, stressed the need to
"take it more seriously," referring to these types of crimes, despite
the fact that neither of the defendants actually shoplifted. But for their
involvement, the crimes would not have been perpetuated.
When each case was presented to the judge the prosecuting attorney stressed the
"lack of remorse" shown by both the defendants.
When asked to speak on her own behalf, Betz said, "I just fell into it and it
got out of control."
Responding to Howe-Gebers remark, Betz stated, "I take this very seriously. I
don’t think it’s minor."
When Fowler rose to speak, she weakly stated, "I can’t" and sat down.
Prior to sentencing, Betz’ attorney Jerome Phillips asked the judge for community
control sanctions in lieu of prison.
He stressed that all the charges involved property, no physical harm. He also stated
she was only involved through the family connections of her husband and
"She has no prior convictions and she has two children, age 20 and 17, including
the youngest one at home," Phillips said. "She had limited
Fowler’s attorney, Lorin J. Zaner, recognizing prison time was inevitable, asked for
four years for his client. He stressed her age and health problems as mitigating
"She really only knew five people, not 65 defendants. She really isn’t the ring
leader," Zaner said.
Howe-Gebers explained that previously Fowler tried to push the blame on her
daughter-in-law, and in her pre-sentence investigation and now through her
attorney, she tried to shift the blame to the police.
She also noted how Fowler used one of the store gift cards while the case was
In regard to Fowler’s health issues, Howe-Gebers stated, "The prison has a very
good health care facility to care for her."
She asked the judge for eight to 10 years in prison for Fowler.
In issuing his sentences, Pollex told Betz, while Fowler was in the courtroom,
"There are a lot of people who could not feed their drug addiction" if
the defendants had not made it possible. "This is a tragedy for
He ordered five years on the engaging count, 30 months on the money laundering, and
11 months each on the food stamp and the stolen property counts. He ordered the
sentences to be served concurrently for the five-year aggregate total for Betz.

The judge reiterated some of his remarks when sentencing Fowler. He added how she was
financially benefitting while retailers were suffering significant losses and
her actions were helping to feed the drug addiction of 60 to 70 people.
The judge ordered eight years for the engaging in corrupt activity for Fowler, and
the matching 30 month and 11-month sentences on the other three counts. Again
they were ordered to be served concurrently.
Both defendants were ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution jointly and severally
with the other co-defendants in this case. They also will be subject to five
years of post-release control sanctions after serving their sentences.
Other items and crimes were also prosecuted through this investigation.
In addition, numerous items will be forfeited that were seized during the course of
the investigation. A forfeiture hearing involving Fowler’s house is scheduled
for June 25.
Both women were immediately taken into custody and transported to the Wood County
jail following the conclusion of both cases.
Several local residents sentenced for role in crime ring

Among the nearly 70 co-defendants in a crime ring mostly involving stolen merchandise
exchanged for gift cards, at least 25 of those people are or were listed as
residents of Wood County or neighboring towns.
Most of the other defendants were found guilty of receiving stolen property (RSP)
and/or engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity (EPCA).
Sentences involve jail or prison, community control sanctions (CCS) and intervention
in lieu of conviction (ILC).
Those local people convicted, listed alphabetically with age, hometown, convicted
charges, and sentence included: Damian Adams, 31, of Fostoria, two counts of
trafficking in drugs, three years CCS; Rachel Ankney, 27, of Bowling Green,
attempted EPCA, three years CCS; Erika Barringer, 27, of North Baltimore,
attempted EPCA and drug possession, 100 hours community service, three years
CCS; Julie Bear, 38, of Cygnet, two counts RSP, 60 days in jail; Diamond
Carlton, 30, of North Baltimore, attempted EPCA and RSP, 11 months and three
years community control concurrent with sentence in a separate case;
K.C. Chapman, 52, of North Baltimore, RSP, 90 days in jail and four years CCS;
Matthew Chapman, 27, of McComb, two counts RSP, 12 months in prison, each
consecutive and concurrent with a sentence he is serving consecutive to a
one-year sentence earlier imposed by the court for possession of heroin for
three years total; Jodi Coats, no age available, Custar, two counts RSP, granted
ILC; Sue M. Combs, 44, of North Baltimore, two counts RSP, 60 days in jail and
three years CCS; Heather Cortez, 31, of Bowling Green, EPCA and RSP, has pleaded
to charges with sentencing set for July 10;
Richard Eaken, 24, of Cygnet, two counts RSP, three years CCS; Joshua Grant, 25, of
North Baltimore, RSP, granted ILC: Sharon Kelley 55, of North Baltimore,
attempted EPCA, 60 days in jail and three years CCS; Jeremy Kopfman, 39, of
Bradner, RSP, granted ILC; Misty Lance, 31, listed at various times in the case
with addresses in Wayne, Rossford and North Baltimore, RSP, three years CCS, and
since conviction has been in court twice for violations of the sanctions and was
recently sentenced to a year in prison;
Trisha Marine, 24, of North Baltimore, RSP, and granted ILC, however has a potential
violation before the court with a hearing set for July 17; Elizabeth Markel, 29,
of North Baltimore, also listed with Grand Rapids and Hoytville addresses,
attempted EPCA and RSP, three years on AEPCA, 11 months for RSP, concurrent with
each other and two additional cases including three years for aggravated
trafficking and trafficking in drugs, as well as 11 months in a separate case
for theft; Michael Markel, 35, Bowling Green, and also listed in North
Baltimore, attempted EPCA and RSP, three years community control including
participation in the SEARCH program; Shawn M. Myers, 22, of Grand Rapids, RSP,
granted ILC; Lauro Rey, 37, of Hoytville, attempted EPCA conviction, with
sentencing set for June 26;
Renee Sheeks, 24, of Custar, attempted EPCA, three years CCS; Floyd Ward, 62, of
Walbridge, two counts RSP, two years CCS;
Jesse Whitacker, 28, of Bowling Green, RSP and in a separate case, trafficking in
heroin, three years CCS; Brian Wright, 27, of North Baltimore, RSP, three years
CCS, including a rehabilitation program; and Tasha Wright, 27, of Deshler, EPCA,
four years in prison and RSP, eight months in prison, consecutive, for a total
of four years and eight months.
spree investigation took 3 years

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