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Cable theft discovered at The Meadows

Andy Ouriel • May 3, 2014 at 1:10 PM

A former Erie County employee admitted he tampered with a public nursing home’s cable TV feed, effectively stealing premium services to broadcast Cleveland Indians games.

But area cable representatives opted against pressing charges, despite the admission given in an Erie County Sheriff’s investigation the Register obtained through a public records request.

In early April, maintenance worker Gary Wonderland disconnected a device from a cable line, which was blocking certain channels from airing on TVs inside The Meadows at Osborn Park, according to the report. Erie County owns and operates The Meadows.

Among the channels some residents illegally received: SportsTime Ohio, the Cleveland Indians’ flagship TV station.

The sheriff launched an investigation after officials discovered Tribe games still aired on nursing home TVs months after administrators chose not to pay a premium fee.

“I spoke with Wonderland and informed him of my investigation,” Erie County Sheriff’s Detective Nick Kotsopoulos wrote in his report. “Wonderland immediately said he was aware, and he was the one that did it”

An acknowledgement of theft, however, isn’t enough for the cable company to pursue charges, said Pat Deville, Buckeye CableSystem vice president.

“He disabled the trap that was used to prohibit the viewing of SportsTime Ohio, since the home at that point decided not to pay for it,” Deville said. “Technically, that is cable theft. But it’s not the type of activity that we are going to pursue charges. We are interested in people that gain money. This is a one-time thing”

A reporter then asked Deville the following question: If a man stole cable for his home, and obtained channels he wasn’t paying for, would he face prosecution if caught?

In short, no.

“If we discovered (cable theft in your home) and told you to put things back and you continue to do it, we would press charges”

Wonderland retired in mid-April shortly after the incident occurred and didn’t face any consequences for his actions.

Commission at odds?

Earlier this year, nursing home officials, citing high costs to carry certain channels including SportsTime Ohio, opted against paying a premium fee to provide them to nursing home residents.

Because residents couldn’t watch games on their TVs, a fundraising effort to pay for the service began shortly after the 2014 season began. Spearheaded by Erie County commissioner Pat Shenigo, private individuals donated about $7,000, about enough money to air SportsTime Ohio at The Meadows for one year.

Erie County commissioner Tom Ferrell, meanwhile, also tried getting the games back on TV.

“I went out there one Friday and walked around,” said Ferrell, who worked with TVs and electronics prior to becoming a commissioner in the late 1980s. “I had a lady call and contact me and offer to put a satellite into all four lounges”

Ferrell’s name popped up several times in the sheriff’s investigation. In fact, Kotsopoulos even interviewed Ferrell about his involvement.

“Wonderland advised Ferrell told him that they have to do what we have to do to get the game going, the Indians game for the residents” Kotsopoulos said.

Ferrell, in a telephone interview with the Register, reiterated he only wanted to test the nursing home’s satellite strength. Ferrell said he personally did not touch any device and never even considered stealing cable.

In the report, however, Ferrell said he asked another maintenance worker to “disconnect the trap,” which blocks unauthorized channels.

Ferrell said he was pleased with Shenigo’s successful attempt to solicit donations so home residents could watch Indians games.

But their colleague wasn’t.

“Pat Shenigo should not have tried to solve the problems himself,” Erie County commissioner Bill Monaghan said. “We should not be out asking people for money”

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