Whipple store owner sentenced

A Whipple business owner was sentenced to jail time Thursday in Washington County Common Pleas Court for allowing illegal food stamp purchases in his store.

Michael T. Polk, 49, of 15 High Lane, owns and operates Polk’s Market at 90 Railroad St., Whipple.

Polk was sentenced to serve 10 weekends in the Washington County Jail for two fifth-degree felony counts of illegal use of food stamps or WIC program benefits.

Between February and August 2012, Polk’s Market became the subject of an investigation by the State Department of Public Safety (DPS), which monitors food stamp and WIC program activity.

“Over the course of these months, they made various purchases there using an EBT card for things that are prohibited from food stamp purchases,” said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

Undercover agents eventually made more than a dozen illegal purchases at the store using EBT cards reserved for certain approved items. Illegally purchased with federal assistance funds were items such as alcohol, tobacco and hot lunches.

Polk, who completed most of the transactions, was indicted in December on 13 fifth-degree felony charges of illegal use of food stamps or WIC program benefits.

His live-in girlfriend, 47-year-old Jolena Best, was indicted on two of the same counts.

Polk eventually pleaded to two counts of the charge and Best pleaded to one.

An 18-year-old female employee was not charged for a couple of illegal sales at the store because she was simply following the lead of her employer, said Schneider.

In addition to an intermittent sentence so Polk could keep his job with Prestige Delivery Systems, Polk’s attorney Nancy Brum requested that he be able to remain free the weekend of May 18.

“It is his son’s wedding,” said Brum.

Neither Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth or Schneider opposed the request.

In addition to the 31 intermittent days in jail, Polk will be placed on community control for three years and will be forced to forfeit the $291 that was in his cash register at the time of the arrest, said Schneider.

“We’re essentially requesting that the money be forfeited as restitution to the Ohio Department of Public Safety for the cost of their investigation,” he said.

Polk was previously the subject of a DPS investigation in 2010 for failing to pay Ohio taxes on cigarettes he was bringing in from other states, said Schneider. That case was pleaded to a first degree misdemeanor, meaning Polk has no prior felonies and was not prison eligible, he said.

Best, who is scheduled to be sentenced today at 4:15 p.m., has prior felony charges for theft in office while working as a fiscal communications officer at the Washington County Child Support Agency and for welfare fraud. Therefore, she faces up to a year in prison on the charge.