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Yost may avoid jail

Courtney Astolfi • Nov 23, 2014 at 11:37 AM

The Erie County prosecutor and a defense attorney agree on this much: Accused thief Joe Yost should not face jail time for allegedly forcing dozens of low-income residents from their homes last year.

At a court hearing Monday, the judge was the only one who appeared unsatisfied with a potential plea bargain that would keepthe owner of the now-defunct Hoppers mobile home park from a stay behind bars.

The city shut off water access to the park late last summer, making it uninhabitable to those who lived there. Yost was subsequently indicted for felony theft because he allegedly collected water payments from those residents but never turned those payments over to the city. All told, he owes Sandusky $260,000 for unpaid Hoppers bills.

Sandusky police detectives were tasked with figuring out just how much money was stolen. They could only account for $2,700 in stolen funds — mostly, detectives said, because residents failed to keep crystal-clear records of each payment they made.

Yost’s jury trial is tentatively slated for April 8, but at Monday’s hearing, special prosecutor Dean Holman and Yost’s attorney, Jonathan Blakely, discussed plans to avoid a jury trial altogether.

The pair want Yost to be placed in a diversion program, which will likely include the requirement he pay the city back for his delinquent bills.

But for Yost to be eligible, his victims must sign off on the agreement. One victim — the city of Sandusky — raised no objections to the potential plea, Holman said.

Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Binette argued that Hoppers residents were victims, too, and as such they deserve a say in Yost’s punishment.

“The city is probably looking for restitution from the defendant, that’s why they’re satisfied with the diversion,” Binette said. “Then again, the city is the one that shut down the trailer park and bulldozed all those trailer homes. The residents of those mobile homes, this court considers … victims”

Prosecutor Holman, however, didn’t see the connection between Yost’s alleged theft and the fact that residents were forced from their homes.

“A mobile home park was bulldozed for $2,700? I’m not aware of that” Holman said.

“I just don’t know how that fits within the scope of the indictment for the theft of money,” Holman said. “I don’t understand how thatleads to a mobile home being bulldozed”

Blakely didn’t argue with him.

“Many of these tenants also had not been paying for years, both water bills and lot rents … had payments actually been made, this probably wouldn’t have happened. It’s very easy to complain about things after the fact” Blakely said.

Binette cited past court actions in which he’s dealt with Yost, including civil disputes and his involvement with the American Crayon building.

“Collecting money and not turning it over to the rightful people … I’m well aware of Mr. Yost and his activities in the community” Binette said.

Even though Holman and Blakely are in agreement on the plea, they and the court must now parse out the court’s involvement in the deal.

Binette told Holman the adult probation department must conduct an investigation and find that Yost is eligible for the diversion program before the plea can move forward.

Also, Binette said he wants to give Hoppers residents time to file objections to the plea if they so choose.

March 31 is the last opportunity Yost currently has to accept a plea deal before his case goes to trial. On Monday, Binette suggested that date may have to be pushed back to accommodate both of those concerns.

Diedre Cole, a former city commissioner who was instrumental in helping former Hoppers residents found new housing, does not believe Yost deserves a place in a diversion program.

“He needs jail time,” Cole said. “I think that’s where he belongs. This has been an ongoing pattern of systematic abuse of the people and the city. It’s ridiculous.

“The prosecution needs to send a clear message that (the justice system) will stand up for the city and its residents” Cole said.

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