JEFFERSON — Former caterer, high school sports official and Conneaut councilman Phil Garcia was sentenced to 18 years in prison on sex charges Wednesday afternoon.
In May, Garcia, 65, of Conneaut, pleaded guilty to four counts of compelling prostitution, third degree felonies, and seven counts of sexual imposition, third degree misdemeanors.
The case was prosecuted by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
Garcia was sentenced to five years for three of the counts of compelling prostitution, and three years for the fourth count of compelling prostitution, to be served consecutively. For the sexual imposition charges, Garcia was sentenced to 60 days for each count. The misdemeanor sexual imposition charges will be served consecutively, but concurrent with the felony charges.
After Garcia was sentenced, his attorney J. Reid Yoder, asked Visiting Judge David Fuhry to stay the sentence pending appeal, which the judge declined to do.
Wednesday's hearing started with a motion from Yoder, seeking to withdraw Garcia's plea. Yoder filed the request on Monday. On Tuesday, Yoder filed an objection to the pre-sentencing investigation and a request to continue Wednesday's sentencing hearing, according to court records.
At Wednesday's hearing, Yoder claimed that Garcia has moderate depression and severe anxiety, which caused him to enter into a plea agreement.
Fuhry has been overseeing the case, and the the Ohio Attorney General's Office has served as the prosecutor, after all of the Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court judges and the Ashtabula County Prosecutor's Office recused themselves from the case.
Prosecutor Natasha Natale argued that having depression and anxiety do not constitute valid reasons to withdraw a plea. She added that the motion was untimely.
Fuhry ruled against the motion to withdraw the plea, noting that Garcia pleaded guilty, and signed the plea agreement.
Fuhry also denied Yoder's motion for a new pre-sentencing investigation. Yoder claimed that the pre-sentencing investigation was biased, and asked for another one to be conducted. To support his argument, Yoder had two affidavits that, he claimed, contradicted information from the pre-sentencing investigation.
The prosecution disputed Yoder's claim, and stated that one affidavit did not contradict the information in the investigation.
On Wednesday, Garcia was sentenced. The four felonies had a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Garcia's brother, Richard Garcia, spoke in defense of his brother. He said that Phil Garcia never intended to hurt anyone, and that he has lost everything because of the accusations that have been brought against him.
Yoder argued that Garcia's chances for recidivism is low, and that he would be amenable to treatment.
"I will tell you, Judge, that the punishment that Phil Garcia has already had is significant enough," Yoder said. "This is a man who once had a referee position, a scheduling position, a catering business, a councilman. He lost everything."
Garcia spoke on his own behalf. He said it was not in his nature to hurt anyone.
"If I did, it's not my intention," Garcia said. "I apologize for my actions."
Three people spoke on behalf of the prosecution. One of the speakers, a mother of two victims, described watching her child suffer. She asked Fuhry to impose the maximum sentence.
"It is something [the victims] will take to the grave with them," she said. "Twenty years is a short time for the price that these victims have paid."
Natale read allegations against Garcia and read victim impact statements. She described Garcia's process of grooming young employees. Garcia targeted young black boys, Natale said. Every one of Garcia's victims was under 18, Natale said.
There are no factors that should mitigate Garcia's sentence, and his actions showed a lack of remorse, Natale said.
Garcia paid his victims extra money while they were working for him, Natale said.
"Money is a powerful thing to hold over a person's head, let alone children that [Garcia] knew lived in poverty," Natale said.
Garcia held something over every victim's head, Natale said.
Victims were only identified by their initials, because they were minors during the time of the offenses.
The charges against Garcia span 12 years, from 1997 to 2009. He was initially charged in August of 2018, and then again in November of 2018.
In total, Garcia was charged with six counts of rape, first-degree felonies, 21 counts of compelling prostitution, second- and third-degree felonies, three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, third-degree felonies, four counts of corruption of a minor, fourth-degree felonies, and one count of bribery, a third-degree felony, according to court records.
Garcia owned Phil's Catering in Saybrook, and was inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame as an official in 2014.
Garcia was elected to Conneaut Council in 2011. He resigned from council in September 2018 to focus on his defense.
Updated at 11:18 a.m., July 30