Conneaut councilman, business owner accused of sexually assaulting teens has extensive background in youth athletics
ASHTABULA COUNTY, OH (WOIO) - A Conneaut councilman accused of raping five teenagers between 1997 and 2005 has been suspended from working with young athletes pending the outcome of a criminal investigation.
The Cleveland 19 Investigative Team has learned Phillip Garcia's officiating license has been suspended indefinitely by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Garcia, 63, began officiating youth sports in Northeast Ohio in 1973.
On Tuesday, the Conneaut native was indicted by an Ashtabula County grand jury on 26 sex-related charges including:
- 5 felony counts of rape
- 15 felony counts of compelling prostitution
- 2 felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
- 4 felony counts of corruption of a minor
The Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office launched the investigation into Garcia in June after one of the alleged victims came forward. The Ashtabula County Prosecutor's Office then referred the case to the Ohio Attorney General for prosecution.
"I have known Philip Garcia and his entire family for many years. I know him as a caterer and Conneaut City Councilman. I reside in Conneaut. I also serve on the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Board of Directors with him.
Put simply, I am terribly dismayed and very troubled by the charges filed against him.
It is only appropriate that I and my entire office step aside in order to avoid any question or appearance of partiality. The Attorney General's Office was kind enough to agree to be appointed special prosecutor in this case, and for that I am extremely appreciative."
-County prosecutor Nicholas A. Iarocci, Esq.
According to the Attorney General, four of the alleged victims were employees of Phil's Catering, an Ashtabula catering business owned by Garcia. All of the victims were between the ages of 13 and 17 at the time of the alleged crimes.
"This report is very shocking," said Tim Stried, OHSAA Director of Communications.
Stried says after learning about charges against Garcia, OHSAA immediately suspended his officiating license. To have his license reinstated, Garcia must be cleared of all charges and be reevaluated by OHSAA.
In 2014, Garcia was inducted into the OHSAA Officiating Hall of Fame for his work officiating high school basketball, baseball, softball, football and volleyball games. If convicted, Stried says Garcia could be stripped of his honor.
Garcia also serves as a charter director of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation, an organization that recognizes basketball players, coaches and referees in Ashtabula County. The Foundation inducted Garcia into its Hall of Fame in 2015.
Speaking by phone Wednesday, ACBF trustee Mike Joslin said the allegations against Garcia came as a shock.
"If any of the charges are correct and are proven to be correct, then of course our hearts go out to any victims," said Joslin.
"While Phil is innocent until proven guilty, it is imperative that, in order to maintain the integrity of the ACBF, Phil be requested to take a leave of absence from the ACBF board while this criminal case is completed," Joslin said.
Joslin co-founded ACBF with Iarocci in 2013 and Iarocci still serves as a foundation trustee.
In addition to the sports he officiates, Garcia also assigns officials for other sports, including wrestling and track.
While Garcia is not an employee of OHSAA, the organization confirms he was an approved trainer and taught officiating courses throughout northeast Ohio.
We here at the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation are shocked and saddened to hear of the charges facing one of our board members, Mr. Phil Garcia.
The ACBF abhors child abuse and sexual assaults, especially those involving minors. Keeping in mind that Mr. Garcia is innocent until proven guilty, in order to maintain the integrity of the Foundation, it is imperative that we request Mr. Garcia take a formal leave of absence until the criminal proceedings have concluded.
-ACBF official statement
Copyright 2018 WOIO. All rights reserved.