Former Leetonia police chief pleads guilty to theft

John Soldano, right, appeared Tuesday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court with his defense attorney, Bruce Williams. (Salem News photo by Deanne Johnson)

LISBON — The former police chief of Leetonia, John Soldano, pleaded guilty to a theft charge in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday.

Before visiting judge Virgil Lee Sinclair Jr., Soldano changed his plea, agreeing to plead guilty to a third-degree felony theft charge. The charge had been amended in a plea agreement from the initial theft in office charge which Soldano was indicted with by the grand jury last May.

Both the theft and theft in office charges were third-degree felonies, both carrying a maximum sentence of a three-year prison term with a fine of up to $10,000.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant County Prosecutor Megan Bickerton said she will request Sinclair consider a nine-month prison term for Soldano at the time of sentencing, which was scheduled on May 9. She offered that she will take no position on a request she believes defense attorney Bruce Williams will make for community control instead of prison.

Soldano has already repaid the stolen money, making restitution to the village of Leetonia in the amount of $15,916 in January 2017.

The charge of theft of office was mostly due to 21 checks totaling $14,200 the state auditor’s office found Soldano wrote to himself from two charity accounts, which were being managed through police department fundraisers. One was the Care and Share program, which provided Christmas assistance to needy families in the area for more than 20 years.

Additionally, Soldano was found to have been overpaid when he retired in October 2015. At that time he reportedly was overpaid $1,716 for unused leave. The money was for 258 hours of leave time taken by Soldano in 2012 and 2013, hours which were never deducted from Soldano’s leave balances.

In addition to the restitution and fines, Sinclair informed Soldano at the time of sentencing he could order him to pay the costs of the special state audit, which Leetonia Mayor Kevin Siembida requested after he took office in 2016 and was concerned about some village accounts.