Cops bust large marijuana operation in former Berardi's restaurant

Nearly 80 plants and $10,000 worth of equipment seized; one suspect arrested.
Cary Ashby
Mar 13, 2014


Two law enforcement agencies seized evidence of one of the largest marijuana-grow operations in the Norwalk area Wednesday.

"This was a joint effort between the Norwalk Police Department and the Huron County Sheriff's Office," police Detective Sgt. Jim Fulton said.

The suspect, Thomas G. Sterling, 31, of 29 Milan Road, Monroeville, is charged with tampering with evidence. If convicted, he faces nine months to three years in prison.

"We believe Thomas Sterling was responsible for cultivating the marijuana at Berardi's (Catering)," sheriff's Detective Sgt. Josh Querin said.

The investigation started a few days ago when police Sgt. Seth Fry received information about Sterling from a tipster.

"Sgt. Querin was able to corroborate some stuff as was Sgt. Fry," Fulton said.

Authorities obtained a search warrant Wednesday from Norwalk Municipal Court Judge Eric Weisenburger.

"We had information on a marijuana grow here," Fulton said, referring to Berardi's Catering, 204 Cleveland Road. "Obviously the information was accurate."

Using the warrant at Berardi's were Fulton, Fry, Officers Paul Gardner and Tim Skinner, as well as sheriff's office personnel Querin and Detectives Kayla Zander and Eric Bardar, Sgt. Tod Wagner and Deputy Mitch Cawrse.

At 9:57 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters gained entry to Berardi's for officers.

"We ended up getting assistance from the fire department. They had a dead bolt (on the door)," Fulton said.

"You could smell it from the outside when we got here," Fulton said, referring to the marijuana.

Officers confiscated 78 marijuana plants from Berardi's.

"There were 13 small plants. ... Most of them were mature -- ready to be harvested," Fulton said. "It looks like they were cloning plants and had several different varieties."

The detective estimated the biggest plants were "better than 3 feet (tall), which was consistent with the information we received."

"He had in fact started harvesting some of them," Fulton added. "He made some admissions."

Officers also seized various lighting equipment from Berardi's.

"He (Sterling) told Seth there was $10,000 worth of equipment," Fulton said.

In a related move, Querin and other sheriff's deputies used a warrant Wednesday at Sterling's residence in Monroeville. A person called the Reflector newsroom and reported there was a house marked off with police tape.

"There were no plants growing (there) at the time. ... When the search warrant was executed, Thomas Sterling was the only one in the home," said Querin, although Sterling reportedly told a detective "he had grown marijuana at his residence in the past."

Deputies seized various lighting equipment, a small amount of cash and various pieces of suspected drug paraphernalia from Sterling's home.

"There were three guns seized from the residence as well as the grow equipment," Querin said.

"There were signs of a young child in the house who stays with (Sterling) from time to time. He said it was a boy (who is) 9 years old," the detective added.

Once deputies determined Sterling lives in Monroeville, they had Monroeville Police Chief Gary Lyons attempt to contact the suspect.

"Prior to our arrival, he had flushed marijuana down the toilet," Querin said. "He received some intelligence we were coming to his house and decided to discard the marijuana."

The marijuana plants seized from Berardi's will need to be dried and weighed.

"We'll probably end up taking them to the Mansfield Police Department. It will have to dry for about two weeks," Fulton said.

Denise Berardi-Waaland and her husband, Larry, sold the Norwalk Berardi's restaurant building on Cleveland Road at an auction during the summer of 2013. The couple retired after more than a combined 70 years in the food business.

Fulton said Sterling had been renting the eastern portion of the building "since shortly after they closed the restaurant."

"I think this (marijuana grow) started shortly after the restaurant closed," Fulton said. "He's only renting half of the building."

However, it's unclear what connection, if any, Sterling has to Berardi's or its owners.

"This was probably the biggest one (grows) I've seen in Norwalk," Fulton said. "This is only the second one I've seen on this scale.

"Occasionally you'll see someone growing marijuana plants in their house. When you see a couple plants, that's for personal use," the detective explained.

"I believe he (Sterling) was going to sell it," Fulton added.

On the street, 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana sells for $25 to $35.

"It depends on the quality you're buying," Fulton said. "(Marijuana) with higher THC will be more expensive."



It's the new Prohibition.

Hopefully someday for the family it'll be like saying that there used to be a bootlegger in the family.

No big deal.


Medical Marihuana is one of the most useful drugs available today. I personally know that there are people who could not live with their daily pain without it. It reduces pain for Arthritis sufferers, enables cancer patients to be able to eat, and reduces anxiety and despair in those with some mental conditions. The fact that it is not legal in Ohio yet does not give these officers the right to take joy in putting someone behind bars that will be released before he ever serves his sentence. The United States is getting ready to release the thousands of inmates who are only there because of the aggressive approach toward drug use by the government in years past. The original decision to criminalize marijuana in the first place was made contrary to the research that was done, and contrary to the advice of the ones who did the research. Let my people go!


People are dying from Heroin but they focus on a drug safer than beer.


If I was the Berardi family I would be owning that newspaper. They have nothing to do with this, and their good name is all over the story.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal information.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal information.


them look like some pretty healthy houseplants. Wish I could grow my houseplants that well. I guess I don't have the get up this guy had.


@anyjoeblow I can't agree with you more just because it says Berardis on the building doesn't mean they should have D&L name plastered every where...also a criminal WHAT!!! Really!!! Personally I think it's a crime to dry all the plants to measure how much is there...if your going to go through all that trouble I think the state should be able to sell what they seize to states where it's legall...if your going to auction off cars and or any other items seized...then recoup some of what it costs for the time and expenses of the city to set up a sting...there are so many ways to right other peoples wrongs...listen to and or read what others on here have ones worried about the weed being sold no ones worried that someone will OD on ones worried it will kill anyone...and that's because we all know deep down that marijuana is not the killer drug....go back to worrying about the real source of who sold and or cut the hereon that has been the cause of several deaths in Lorain county....that's the drug that needs to be off the streets along with crack and cocain....bigger bigger issues in these small towns people than weed.....SMH




Legalize it. Plain and simple.

thinkagain's picture

Addicted to pot, your life will go up in smoke while you sit baked out of your gourd, watching old Cheech and Chong movies.


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Leave his mom out of this. She is one of my good friends. I find your comment very inappropriate!

Everyone is fam...

Every time I read these comments, I think "wow, dumbest person ever", and then you come along and prove me wrong. The title belongs to you "olwiseone". Where's your supporting evidence that they committed arson? Or are you just trying to stir up dirty laundry that doesn't exist for your own personal vendetta?


Well. If they are going to screw over somebody that is growing/selling something that doesn't have any known harm to its users. You know they will search all family involved. I know its not legal or medical yet in Ohio. And that's why I'm in California. And as soon as it passes in Ohio, ill be involved with a medical grow operation ASAP. I won't tell the specifics but its in huron county. And people with big money want in. The people who will grow and or supervise the operation have degrees from the Ohio state university. It will be a great thing for Ohio and its people. For a lot of reasons. Jobs, taxes, medical treatment, prisons/jails. Great things will come of this unlike the casinos.


Of course people with big $$ want in on it. There's money to be made. Legalizing marihuana is only going to hurt the little people as usual. I'm for legalization, not government controlled dispensaries though. Every time the government gets involved, we the people get pooped on.


Regardless of the name on the bldg. or what it's called; gotta figure that authorities are gonna change the official name when they confiscate the property due to illegal activity.


Well scorp111772. Maybe I could give you a job. Once this passes. That way we can help the so called "little people." as long as somebody has a growing skill or nursery management skills, that's what we would be about is helping people that can't get a job because or b.s. drug charges. Can't wait.


Not sure I would want to buy french fries from a dealer. Is Sterlings trailer going to be in Perkins any more. Are they going to take the trailer that he sells his fries out of? Isnt he a grandson of Berards, I wonder what his two buddies Coleman and Ferrel will do about allowing him to sell fries this year? We wonder why they are so good!!!!!!! I am going to sell cookies next door too.

former local

Whats ironic is in this screwed up country, you'd probably have to pass a drug test to work at the MJ factory!


So what do you think exoticnoise, should this be classified as a large growing operation? Lol


@ scorp. Maybe in norwalk it would be considered a medium grow site. By people that know what other grow sites look like, this is small. A regular person with a permit can grow up to 100 plants in California or Colorado. And a grower for medical sales can grow up to 5,000 plants as long as you have the space. Keep in mind it only takes at most 3 months from seed till sale for marijuana. That's 20,000 plants a year.


Ok this story has been beating the horse that it's so dead!!!!...that should be the move on to the next story..Lord knows there will be another story that will be beat like another dead horse....same ol people making the same ol STATEMENTS.....that fall apron the same ol deaf ears.....NEXT......STORY ......PLEASE...


Lol ^^^ who's this guy think he is? If you don't want to read stop being nosey silly! Don't you have a law book you should be reading? ;). Lmao
Anywho...I find that very interesting exnoise. I hope it works out for you in Ohio!


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Madre stop taking stupid pills.


Where are the buds on the plants? Going to weigh the dried plants, stems and leaves with the dried potting soil attached to the dried roots for more weight?