Gregory Leigh Sr., 43, was charged Wednesday with two counts of felony breaking and entering, although he could face additional charges if he's connected to other similar crimes in the area.
It's not the first time Leigh had been arrested in recent months.
He popped up on police radar in Bellevue Nov. 9, when he was caught at a grocery store using a gift card stolen from a Bellevue church.
“We had asked employees to keep an eye out for anybody using those cards,” Bellevue police Detective Eric Burt said. “About a week later, we got a call.”
When they searched Leigh, officers found another four gift cards in his pockets. They arrested him on the spot and took him in for an interview, police said.
Leigh told officers he bought the cards from “skaters” outside a church.
“We got nowhere with him on the break-in,” Bellevue police Detective Eric Burt said.
Without solid evidence linking Leigh directly to the Bellevue church break-in, police charged him with four misdemeanor counts of receiving stolen property.
At that point, however, four other church burglaries had already been reported within two days — one in Milan, three in Norwalk.
Leigh was booked into the Sandusky County jail, then released on Nov. 13.
Less than a week later, someone broke into Trinity Lutheran Church in Sandusky and stole more than $1,000. On Sunday, two more Erie County churches were hit — one in Milan, one in Huron.
By then the break-ins had the full attention of Erie County deputies. They obtained information from Bellevue police, including the serial numbers from the gift cards stolen from the Mount Harvest Church of God. They then checked those against the gift cards found in Leigh’s pockets when he was arrested in Bellevue.
Two serial numbers matched.
On Wednesday, police drove out to the Relax Inn on West Main Street in Bellevue, where they arrested Leigh a second time.
“He wanted to know what it was all about, so I told him Erie County deputies wanted to talk about the cards,” Burt said. “He got his shoes and went with me without a fight.”
For their part, deputies took Leigh on something of a tour of the burglarized churches in Milan. During that expedition, Leigh allegedly admitted to committing both burglaries.
He also showed deputies how he used a coat hanger to get inside, Erie County Chief Deputy Jared Oliver said.
“He told us he started around the beginning of the month,” Oliver said.
After looking at the three-county list of churches hit, Oliver isn't totally convinced Leigh's activities were limited to Milan.
“They all have the same MO,” Oliver said. “We’ve provided all the information he gave us to the other agencies involved.”
As of Wednesday, at least 19 churches have been burglarized in the past two months in Erie, Huron and Sandusky counties. Sandusky and Bellevue police reports show about $4,000 was stolen from churches in those towns.
Oliver said it's not likely Leigh was involved in all the burglaries, as the methods of entry differed in some cases.
Leigh was released from Lorain Correctional Institution Jan. 16, after serving more than a year for a felony domestic violence conviction. In the past he was also been convicted of safecracking and grand theft, Erie County deputies said.
Late Wednesday Leigh was still in the Erie County jail without bond.
Area church burglaries since Oct. 1
Source: Area law enforcement agencies