LIMA — A retired sheriff sergeant admitted Thursday to stealing guns and taking steps to cover it up during a hearing Thursday. He pleaded guilty to 59 felony charges.
Frederick DePalma Jr. will face up to 109 years in prison when he is sentenced — scheduled for Sept. 30 in Allen County Common Pleas Court. DePalma pleaded guilty to 35 counts of theft in office and 24 counts of tampering with records.
“I did remove weapons from the evidence room and sell them for my own benefit,” DePalma said. “I documented that items had been destroyed and they had not been.”
DePalma, 49, said he stole guns that had a court order to be destroyed. He said he modified the record to say each firearm was destroyed when it was not.
DePalma’s statement came after visiting Judge Randall Basinger asked DePalma to explain what he did. DePalma also said he stole $11,800 in cash and some electronic items. He said he stole 33 firearms and was not sure how many guns were returned to the sheriff’s office after his crimes were discovered.
DePalma said most of the guns were sold to officers in the agency but he kept a couple to use for his own training purposes.
Basinger asked DePalma if any deputy was aware the gun they were buying was stolen. DePalma said no, he never told them where he got the weapons.
DePalma was allowed to remain out of jail on bond and can travel to Pennsylvania on vacation with his church. The judge also removed him from ankle bracelet monitoring.
As part of the plea deal, DePalma agreed to make a full and truthful statement to state investigators on the crimes he committed and he will pay restitution, which still is being calculated. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the 53 remaining criminal charges.
Prosecutor Matt Fox, assigned to the case since the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office deals with the sheriff’s office daily, read into the record every charge with the date of the crime that DePalma was pleading to. DePalma started stealing firearms in 2008 and finished his crime spree in 2014 just before he retired after 27 years with the agency, Fox said.
Basinger also read over each charge and the felony level before asking DePalma for a plea on each charge, separately. DePalma answered “guilty” each time.
DePalma was a sergeant who served as a crime scene officer. He collected and stored evidence for the agency.
Sheriff Sam Crish announced in May employees of his agency purchased the guns from DePalma but were unaware the guns were stolen. He did not name the employees. Crish said some of the guns were recovered but some remained unaccounted for and could have been resold to people in the general public.