Police found multiple incriminating items in the Norwalk home of Michael L. Gheta, who is accused of stealing more than $800 in cash from the local Aldi grocery store.
Norwalk Police Detective Sgt. Jim Fulton said officers found a 22-caliber rifle in a metal clothes closet in the basement and on the kitchen counter was a pair of scissors, which were believed to be used to cut holes in a stocking cap for Gheta’s eyes, mouth and nose. Police have said the suspect entered the Milan Avenue grocery store with the rifle while wearing a stocking cap with similar holes.
Police also reported seizing the Aldi cash drawer with $805 in it.
“Those items have been submitted to BCI&I,” Fulton said, referring to the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation.
Fulton said a receipt from the Aldi cash register indicates there was $1,000 there as of 3:15 p.m. Sunday.
Twenty-two minutes later, the Huron County Sheriff’s Office received the first of several 9-1-1 calls about an armed robbery at Aldi and transferred those emergency calls to the Norwalk Police Department.
There were several customers in the store at the time of the robbery, but nobody was injured.
“I don’t have an exact count. … I’d say between seven and 10 people,” Fulton said Monday. “There was an 11-year-old girl who was extremely upset.”
Aldi spokeswoman Heather Tarczan declined to say how the clerks or other victims were doing as of Monday night, but said the health and safety of their customers and employees are a priority. She also said Aldi appreciates the efforts of the Norwalk Police Department and said the business “will cooperate to the full extent of our abilities.”
Witnesses said they saw Gheta flee on a bicycle to his home at 35 W. Willard Ave. He dumped his bicycle behind 37 W. Willard Ave. and went inside his residence.
Police made contact with Gheta within 10 minutes or less after the robbery, said Fulton, who credited officers for their speedy response. Several sheriff’s deputies and a canine unit assisted Norwalk police by searching the area near Gheta’s home.
“He was cooperative and gave consent to search (his home),” Fulton said.
The detective said Gheta didn’t provide police with a motive and didn’t have any accomplices.
Gheta, 33, formerly of Vermilion and Sheffield Lake, pleaded “not guilty” to robbery Monday in Norwalk Municipal Court. If convicted of the second-degree felony, he faces two to eight years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000.
Judge John Ridge ordered Gheta to be held in lieu of a $100,000 cash bond. The judge ruled the defendant, if he posts bail, must remain off the premises of Aldi and cannot touch or possess a firearm.
Gheta’s criminal record includes charges for assault, burglary, breaking and entering, domestic violence, assault on a police officer, attempted robbery and robbery, Fulton said.
The defendant served a three-year prison term from Lorain County starting in June 2006 for burglary, robbery, theft, possession of cocaine and possession of drug abuse paraphernalia convictions, according to Lorain County Common Pleas Court records. In November 2001, Gheta was sentenced to three years of probation in Lorain County for driving under the influence, obstructing official business, resisting arrest, harassment by an inmate and assault on a police officer, court records indicate.
“He’s got quite a criminal record,” Fulton said.
Jason Zimmerman, whose sister lives on the same street as Gheta, said the suspect has been known to sit on his porch and talk on the phone in a hostile manner.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Staff writer Aaron Krause contributed to this story.