LIMA — Over the objection of the prosecutor, a judge on Monday granted a former firefighter’s request to receive mental health counseling for a shopping and spending problem that could avoid a felony conviction.
Prosecutor Juergen Waldick argued Jason Belton should not be allowed mental health counseling to avoid a felony theft conviction. The prosecutor went through each part of the criteria under Ohio criminal law’s mental illness standard to dispute any notion Belton suffered from a mental illness.
But Judge Richard Warren of Allen County Common Pleas Court rejected Waldick’s argument saying he was willing to take a chance on Belton. Additionally, the special chance of applying for intervention in lieu of conviction requires the defendant to plead guilty to the charge and face sentencing should he get in trouble.
“The court is the gatekeeper. I have to make those tough decisions,” Warren said. “We’re in a win-win situation. ... If he doesn’t comply it comes back on the record and he can go to prison.”
In Belton’s case, he pleaded guilty to grand theft, a fourth-degree felony that carries up to 18 months in prison. He stole $14,544 from union money with the American Township Fire Department. He has paid back the money and resigned his position with the Fire Department.
Psychologist Stephen Ross testified Belton suffers from bipolar disorder, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder related to the horrors he witnessed as a firefighter and an impulse control disorder.
In one instance, Belton purchased 30 guitars he never used but put on display at his home, Ross said.
“He told me he was buying things he never used,” Ross said.
On cross-examination, Ross told Waldick he could not say all purchases were related to Belton’s mental illness. He also said there are millions of people who overspend on credit cards and some people do steal from their employers to pay credit card debt, yet not all those people suffer from mental illness.
Belton was ashamed of his behavior and referred to it as “borrowing money” during an evaluation, Ross said.
As part of his treatment, Belton will have to seek mental health counseling and meet with the judge at mental health court through Allen County Common Pleas Court. He also will have to attend a weekly support meeting, stay on his medications and will be on probation.