Sunday, July 7, 2024

Stark County worker accused of stealing $550K, two cars from great aunt

by Robert Wang

A Stark County Auditor's Office supervisor who oversees the testing of gas pumps and supermarket scales is accused of stealing more than $550,000 and two vehicles from his great aunt.

Nicholas J. Owens, 44, of North Canton, who works in the county Auditor's Office, is charged with theft from a person in a protected class, securing writings by deception, misuse of credit cards and two counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle, all felonies.

He was taken into custody Tuesday by the North Canton Police Department and spent Wednesday and the Fourth of July holiday in the Stark County Jail.

He made an initial appearance in Canton Municipal Court on Friday.

According to court records, Owens waived his right to a preliminary hearing. So, Canton Municipal Judge Kristin Guardado bound the case over to a Stark County grand jury for its consideration.

Owens' wife posted 10% of his $100,000 bond, so Owens could be released from jail under supervision of the pre-trial release program. The judge ordered he have no contact with his great aunt.

What is Nicholas Owens accused of?

According to criminal complaints filed by a North Canton police detective and a police report said that Owens' great aunt lives in an assisted living facility a few miles outside North Canton. She has dementia and Alzheimer's disease and had given Owens financial power of attorney over her assets. The complaints said that the great aunt is "unable to competently make decisions on her own."

His attorney Julie Jakmides said at the hearing Friday that Owens doesn't have power of attorney, but he does have at least one joint financial account with her.

Owens' other attorney, Jakmides' father, Jeff Jakmides said before Friday's hearing that his client would plead not guilty. And he asked the public to respect the presumption that his client is innocent.

One complaint accuses Owens of stealing about $550,000 from the woman.

"The defendant used the funds outside of the scope granted in the Power of Attorney, and not in a manner consistent with the principal's best interest," said complaint, which did not specify what Owens purchased with the money.

Another complaint said that Owens, while "deceiving his great aunt" transferred $3,000 from his great aunt's account to his own account. Then, Owens allegedly wrote a check in the amount of $3,000 from that account apparently in payment to buy a 2010 Toyota Camry from his great aunt.

Two complaints said that Owens drafted a document taking ownership of his great aunt's 1965 Ford Mustang, a car, police said, whose national average value is $42,500.

Police said Owens used his great aunt's credit card "for his own personal gain" outside the scope granted in the power of attorney during a 90-day period in amounts totaling at least $7,500 and less than $150,000.

The complaints said these acts took place from Sept. 1, 2020 to June 10, 2024.

On May 22, a great-niece and niece of the elderly woman reported to North Canton police that the woman's total Chase Bank account balances had declined from $215,733 in 2020 to $40,116 on April 30, according to a police report. The niece, who had obtained access to her aunt's bank statements, said they showed unusually large amounts being transferred, withdrawn to pay credit card bills or withdrawn to cover check payments. They claimed Owens had withdrawn $50,000 from his great aunt's 401-K retirement account linked to Chase Bank without consulting her or other family members, the police report said. And they told police they believed that Owens had his great aunt sign over ownership of the two vehicles to him without her understanding what she was signing.

The police report said the great niece provided "a document from the Stark County Probate Court, dated May 9, 2024, showing that (the great aunt) is no longer competent and able to make sound decisions."

A search of the online docket of the Stark County Probate Court does not indicate anyone has sought to have the court declare the great aunt incompetent and to appoint a guardian to manage her affairs on her behalf.

Owens not suspended from his county job

Owens is the division supervisor for the Stark County Auditor's Weights and Measures Department.

“The charges didn’t involve my office or his duties here and we’ll just continue to evaluate this as it unfolds," county Auditor Alan Harold said.

Harold suggested that for now, Owens once he posts bond to be released from the jail, could return to work and resume doing inspections and overseeing the four auditor's staffers who do inspections.

Owens supervises the Stark County Auditor's department that tests that the number of gallons on the displays of gas station gas pumps matches the actual number of gallons of fuel dispensed. Workers also go to supermarkets to test the accuracy of scales and price scanners. The department's inspectors also check the accuracy of scales at other businesses.

Harold declined to comment on the charges against Owens. He said when Owens was arrested it was not during one of Owens' inspections or while he was on work time. While Owens was scheduled to work Tuesday, Harold indicated he was between work assignments when police took him into custody.

North Canton Police Sgt. Matthew Buzzard confirmed that police officers asked Owens to come down to the police station Tuesday afternoon. They questioned him and then arrested him at the station.

Owens' wife, Melissa Owens, a North Canton council member who represents Ward 3, declined to comment.

Nicholas Owens worked as a weights and measures inspector for the Stark County Auditor's office from 1997 to 2008. He then was a part-time and then full-time elections preparations coordinator for about three years for the Stark County Board of Elections.

After Harold was first elected county auditor, he hired Nicholas Owens as his consumer protection coordinator in 2011. Owens has worked for him since.

Nicholas Owens ran unsuccessfully for Pike Township trustee in 2011. He later moved to North Canton. In March, he was re-elected to the Stark County Republican Central Committee as a precinct committee member for the precinct North Canton 3A.

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Stark County worker accused of stealing $550K, two cars from great aunt

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