JEFFERSON, Ohio - A councilman, businessman and respected member of several Ashtabula County communities is now behind bars facing 26 sex-related charges involving sexual assault and paying for sexual activity involving multiple juveniles.
"Do we think that there's others? There's a good possibility," said Sheriff William Johnson. "That's why we put in there if anybody has any information to share with us."
Sheriff Johnson says their investigation spanned several months, beginning when a male victim came forward.
According to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, 63-year-old Phillip Garcia, of Conneaut, was indicted on an array of charges ranging from rape to compelling prostitution. The incidents are said to have occurred between 1997 and 2005 and center around five juveniles. At the time, the ages of the victims ranged from 13 and 17.
Garcia is the owner of Phil's Catering in Ashtabula. According to the Attorney General's Office, four of the alleged victims were employees of the defendant's catering business. Current employees say they never imagined he would be involved in the crimes alleged.
"It's insane; it's crazy; it's unbelievable he was even able to have a store here," said a woman parked outside of Garcia's catering business.
According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Garcia was inducted in their 2014 "Officiating Hall of Fame." A spokesperson said Garcia was one of 15,000 officials in Ohio and licensed for at least 25 years in several sports, getting paid to work games but was not an employee by OHSAA.
The OHSAA describes Garcia as a highly graded and respected official. A spokesperson says they did not receive any complaints about his behavior. Garcia's license is suspended as of today, according to the group spokesperson and he could be removed from the OHSAA Hall of Fame.
Jim Hockaday, Conneaut's city manager released the following statement:
"On behalf of the residents, employees and elected officials of the City of Conneaut, we are stunned and shocked by the indictment returned yesterday against Ward 2 Council Member Phil Garcia on multiple counts of sex offenses, some involving minors. Conneaut is a good community and a good place to work and raise a family, and any act of sexual abuse is not tolerated.
The City condemns any act of sexual abuse against anyone at any time, particularly minors. We are deeply concerned for the victims of sexual abuse and that their rights, as well as the rights of those who are accused, are protected. These indictments are only the beginning of a lengthy legal procedure our country has steadfastly followed for more than two hundred years, and further public comment is not appropriate until such time as this matter is resolved according to the law."
Garcia is expected in court for the first time Thursday. Garcia's lawyer says he is looking forward to his day in court.