A Ravenna man caught earlier this year possessing videos and photos of children using the restroom and undressing in area clothing stores pleaded guilty Wednesday to six felony charges that could land him in prison for up to 27 years.
Portage County Common Pleas Judge Becky Doherty accepted 33-year-old Joseph M. Chiappone's guilty pleas to three counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, all second-degree felonies, and three counts of voyeurism, all fifth-degrees.
Each second-degree felony carries a potential sentence of two to eight years in prison, with each fifth-degree felony carrying a maximum sentence of up to one year behind bars.
A pre-sentence investigation and further research by his defense attorney, prosecutors and the judge will determine what level sex offender Chiappone will be labeled and how long he will spend on a sex offender registry, Doherty said.
Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Steve Michniak said his office and defense attorney Dan Weisenburger recommended Chiappone serve at least four years in prison, though final sentencing is up to Doherty.
Two incidents of suspected voyeurism were reported Dec. 24, 2016, at two retail stores in the Stow Community Center plaza at 4330 Kent Road, according to Stow police.
Investigators learned an unidentified white male was alleged to have recorded young boys changing or using restrooms at two stores there. After putting photos of the suspect and his vehicle on their Facebook page, Stow police received two anonymous tips identifying Chiappone.
Michniak said a search of Chiappone's home on South Prospect Street in Ravenna turned up video and photographs of men and young boys using restrooms or changing rooms. The majority of victims were adults and those charges would have been misdemeanors if filed in Summit County. But because some were children, and Chiappone possessed those images in Portage County, it was considered child pornography and he was indicted on 18 felonies.
Most of the victims of Chiappone's scheme — there may be as many as 30 adults males who don’t realize they were photographed using restrooms — remain unidentified, Michniak said.
He credited one "brave" victim for telling his mother about a suspicious incident during a shopping trip and for her then alerting police. The child still is nervous and anxious about using public restrooms and dressing rooms, Michniak said, but was willing to testify against Chiappone at trial if needed.
Michniak said the child's mother requested Chiappone serve prison time and get counseling "so he can't do this to other boys."