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."



Praying for Sterling's family. May God give you peace and healing at this time.


I see new restaurant moving into Sugarcreek


That's a pretty fancy operation. To bad he doesn't live in Colorado.


Wow. I know some of this mans family. Prayers for them.


I don't understand taking it to Mansfield to dry? Why, unless they want to use it themselves? I know it has to be dried to use it, just like tobacco has to be dried. If it has been seized, isn't it then destroyed?


It has to be dried before it can be weighed so they know what charges can be filed. Plants contain water and water is not a drug. So they have to get the water out of the plant to know the weight it would be when it would be useable. I assume they are taking it to Mansfield because they probably have a DEA agency that has the knowledge and permits to dry and whatever else they will need to do this.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal information.

Fibber Mcgee

No wonder they taste so good...


According to the HC Auditor website Denise Berardi-Waaland and her husband, Larry DO still own the building...?


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Profane, obscene, sexual or derogatory language.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Profane, obscene, sexual or derogatory language.


As soon as medical marijuana is on the voting ballot in Ohio it will pass. And I know for a fact 2 business owners are going to turn an empty factory in huron county into a large scale medical marijuana growing business. I give it a year till its for medical in Ohio.


I hope so! Lol.


Doesn't anyone see the real problem here? They're trying to bust all the MJ operations they can just to keep the dying DEA $$$ coming in. They'll fit as well on the other side, guarding the crops as they do on this side. Depends on where the $$ comes from. They don't care as long as they have a job...wherever there is a demand, there is work to be done.


Last year Ottawa County Drug Task Force confiscated 364k dollars worth of illegal drugs, of that 364k, 363k was MJ, it seems there is no heroin or script pills being used in Ottawa County or they are looking the other way. These task forces are a waste of time if they are not looking into hardcore drugs.


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

A "joint" effort?


Lack of area jobs.

When the goin' gets tough, the 'tough' do what they must.

jack langhals

Good one !


The people want MJ legal, it will happen.


Gov. John Hickenlooper (D- Colorado) recently announced that he expects that the combined sales from both legal medical and recreational marijuana in the state will reach nearly $1 billion in the next fiscal year...

About $600 million of that is projected to come from just recreational sales.

The state stands to collect at least $134 million in taxes and fees.

Ohio has twice as many residents as Colorado does. Saying that Ohio set up a similar tax scale, Ohio would be able to approximately bring in $300 million ($268m)in taxes if not more. Every 5 years that would be approx. 1.5 billion dollars in taxes. Not to mention the money made from the taxation of hemp and hemp products. And all of these numbers would only continue to grow.

In comparison, Ohio collected $825 million in net taxes in 2012 from Tobacco products. Tobacco products with warning labels stating that they cause cancer and people still consume them.


Regarding CO:

The jinn is outa the bottle.

Once the seeds are in the public domain a white and grey market will develop.

Tax revenue collected will level off or decline as people grow their own.

IMO, OH should just legalize the commercial growing of hemp. Great cash crop.


Hemp would be a great cash crop in Ohio or anywhere. Hemp can be made into so many products and is being used now in plastics that are in most people's cars.

“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” - Henry Ford

The problem with the seed theory, a lot of people can't grow good marijuana even with good seeds, good soil, proper water schedules and proper lighting. Recreational users like marijuana with a high THC %, where users with medical conditions (especially children) need marijuana with a high CBD % and a low THC %. Since there are so many strains that come from either a sativa or indica plant or a hybrid of both it's hard to get exactly what you are looking for unless you can professionally grow. A professional grower can meet any need, regardless of health condition or the "high" you want to reach.

Besides that, they sell all kinds of seeds at local markets and I don't see corn and beans in every ones backyards. I do however see stacks of canned corn, frozen bags of corn and fresh corn sold everyday at the store. Just because people can do something doesn't mean they have the knowledge or willingness to do it. A small percentage would grow, a large percentage would buy, in my opinion.


Re: "a lot of people can't grow good marijuana,"

If they could grow dandelions, they can grow "weed."

"Grey mkts": Friends selling to friends.

"White mkts": Kinda like givin' homegrown tomatoes to friends.


Just like tobacco right?


Re: "tobacco,"

Good luck growin' it in OH.

JMOP's picture

That's to say if twice the amount of people will buy MJ in Ohio. I don't use, and won't, even if it did become legal.

I would appreciate those tax dollars though.


You are right, the numbers could be smaller. But even if we matched Colorado's numbers we would still be collecting tax revenue that wasn't present before and would reduce spending. Instead of fighting a war on drugs, that includes marijuana that is costing us billions annually, use the resources to make quality bust of hard drugs. I would love to see a system where we aren't paying to house non violent marijuana offenders in county jails and instead we could collect tax revenue from those same people. The ends don't justify the means in the fight against marijuana. And in this area I would rather see the money and man power used to go after the heroin dealers.


i bet they have to send it off to dry the last time they had a much of weed some place till court they lost , someone stole it and what they had left was all moldy .they are not going to get all that much after it drys.i say leave the pot heads alone and go get all these junkies and herion deals off the streets.

Richard Cranium

Since when did the NPD and HCSO get along and do something in a "joint effort"? That just don't happen...must be a fluke or an incorrect news article.


If there was a child exposed to this stuff, gees! How are kids suppose to know right from wrong when they are getting mixed messages all the time?


Stop Troll, I can see you lurking under that bridge. Its your job as a parent to explain how the world works and for you to know the world is really f-ed up with double standards and laws that are in place to make money not to protect you but too make money.