ELYRIA — Federal criminal charges have been filed against four men accused in two separate armed robberies in the city this spring, incidents in which firearms were used to rob victims at a gas station and a fast food restaurant.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio announced Tuesday that following investigations by the FBI and the Elyria Police Department, federal charges were filed against Joseph Geiger and Michael Ward in the May 5 robbery of the Marathon gas station at 503 Huron St., while James Jackson and Demario Horton are accused of using a firearm in an attempt to rob the Rally’s at 711 Cleveland St. on June 11.
The robberies are otherwise unrelated, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In a statement accompanying the announcement of the indictments, Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said Elyria police and FBI agents worked together to solve the robberies and take the cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“These two cases are perfect examples of how the federal government is helping local municipalities make the cities a safer place to be,” he said.
Federal officials including U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman and Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI’s Cleveland division likewise praised the working relationship between Elyria police and federal agents and prosecutors.
“Anyone who uses a firearm to threaten people who are just trying to earn a living is a danger to our community,” Herdman said.
“Customers were simply utilizing their community businesses when these individuals brought danger in the door,” Smith said.
Geiger, 31, of Cleveland, and Ward, 31, of Lorain, are charged with one count of Hobbs Act robbery and one count of using and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Ward also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Geiger and Ward are accused of brandishing a firearm while robbing the Marathon gas station May 5. Ward also allegedly possessed a Valor .325-caliber revolver and three live rounds of .325-caliber ammunition May 5, despite previous convictions for domestic violence and burglary.
In that case, police said Geiger and Ward entered the gas station shortly before its 10 p.m. closing time and used plastic ties to bind a 40-year-old female clerk’s hands. One of the men threatened to shoot the clerk, but she was left unharmed after the robbers fled with cigarettes and cash, according to Elyria police.
Ward was arrested May 31 on Woodford Avenue in Elyria. Geiger was arrested at his workplace on Lowell Street on May 30, after police saw him in the area of the crime the night it happened, but had insufficient evidence to arrest him.
In the Rally’s robbery, Jackson, 27, of Wickliffe, and Horton, 29, of Cleveland, are charged with one count of attempted Hobbs Act robbery and one count of using and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Horton is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jackson and Horton are accused of brandishing a firearm June 11 while attempting to rob the Rally’s restaurant. Horton also allegedly possessed a Glock .45-caliber pistol and ammunition, despite a previous conviction for aggravated robbery.
Elyria police officers responded at 2:54 a.m. June 11 to a report of a robbery at the Rally’s restaurant. At the scene, three employees told officers that two black men wearing black hoodies got in through an unsecured side door.
Armed with a box cutter and a dark-colored handgun, the men forced the employees into a closet. They threatened the victims, stole a wallet and cellphone from one of them and then tried to force open the store’s safe with a crowbar, Elyria police said. When that failed, the robbers fled without any money, police said.
The employees were not injured and called 911. Less than 20 minutes later, Elyria officers and Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies stopped a 2019 Toyota Highlander on state Route 57, just north of East Broad Street.
Horton, Jackson and evidence tied to the robbery all were inside and the men were arrested. Both have prior robbery convictions in Cuyahoga County, according to Elyria police.
These federal charges in the robberies were filed as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, which was restarted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 and brings local law enforcement and the communities they serve together to reduce violent crime.