Cuyahoga County

Ex-Strongsville schools employee sent to prison after stealing from school district


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A former maintenance foreman at Strongsville City Schools was sent to prison for nine months for stealing more than $64,000 in items from the suburban school system.

School officials and prosecutors on Wednesday made impassioned pleas for a strong sentence to be imposed on Robert Schwerman, a longtime school district employee who for five years bought items he said he needed to help care for the schools and took them home.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Friedland handed down the nine-month sentence. She could have sentenced Schwerman anywhere from probation to three years in prison.

"He didn't steal money for his family to eat," Strongsville School Board President Carl Naso said. "He stole toys. A man that steals money from children to buy himself toys is a man without moral compass."

Schwerman, 49, apologized to the school district, the court and his family. Defense attorney John Gibbons said he didn't believe Schwerman was a "master thief," but instead "an emotional wreck and a sad person."

Gibbons said Schwerman has "obvious psychological and psychiatric issues" but did not further elaborate.

After Strongsville's school board auctioned off several of the stolen items and the state auditor's office factored in depreciation, Schwerman needed to pay back $44,700. Schwerman paid $50,000 in restitution after his guilty plea to third-degree felony charges of theft in office and tampering with evidence. He will be paid back the difference.

Meyers said the investigations showed he stole from the school district 79 different times, sometimes for things as small as screws that he used on the deck of his Lorain home. His largest theft was a $20,000 customized John Deere tractor, fitted with aftermarket speakers and a heating system, that prosecutors said he barely used.

He also stole a $9,000 lawn mower, a carport and tool shed that once stood on school district property and equipment for his home, including a furnace, water heater, thermal cameras and a snow plow.

Schwerman began submitting invoices for items in 2012, when the district was embarking on an $81 million bond initiative that took up most of the school's business department's time and energy, Superintendent Cameron Ryba said.

"Mr. Schwerman saw this as an opportunity to exploit the vast scope of responsibility in the department and search for areas of vulnerability in procedural safeguards," Ryba said. "He became skilled at getting necessary purchase orders approved, yet sliding in invoices that were steeped in part numbers and codes he was using for purchases for his personal benefit."

Ryba said the money Schwerman stole was enough to sponsor tuition payments for 30 full-time kindergarten students, enough cleaning supplies for the entire school district for two years or Chromebooks for all 300 students at Chapman Elementary School.

Ryba said Schwerman eroded the trust the district has tried to build with the public at a time when the district is asking voters in November to approve a new levy for the first time since 2007.

"Mr. Schwerman's selfish actions may have destroyed some of the trust we have so carefully built as a district," Ryba said.

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