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Former Pike County sheriff sentenced to prison

Updated: Mar. 24, 2021 at 1:45 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (FOX19) - Former Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader is heading to a state prison for the next three years after pleading guilty to stealing money seized from arrests and then covering it up.

Reader, 47, pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts of theft in office, two felony counts of tampering with evidence and one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.

He sobbed as he pleaded with specially appointed Judge Patricia Cosgrove during his sentencing hearing Wednesday in Pike County Common Pleas Court.

“Your honor, please don’t send me to prison,” Reader urged. “I have wronged but I am not ruined. I still have a lot of good left in me.”

Reader characterized himself as a “good person” who “made bad decisions and choices.” He said he had no words for his feelings of shame and regret. “I now pray that the court will find mercy on me.”

Cosgrove, a veteran judge, has sentenced other elected officials in criminal cases and appeared unmoved.

She sentenced Reader to three years in prison, or one year in prison on each theft count, two years for each count of tampering and six months in the Summit County Jail for conflict of interest.

“It can not be underestimated the damage that you have caused to the citizens of Pike County, to law enforcement. The sacrifices that these men and women make, I think you made a mockery of [them,]” Cosgrove said.

Reader was appointed sheriff in 2015 but suspended in 2019 when he was accused of borrowing money from subordinates and stealing drug money.

His term ended late last year, and a new sheriff, Tracy Evans, is on the job after winning election last fall.

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Authorities say Reader requested and/or accepted loans ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 from county employees and vendors during his time in office.

He racked up more than $17,000 in gambling losses at Columbus casinos between 2016 and 2018, according to the State Auditor’s Office.

He told investigators his wife had threatened to divorce him over his gambling, records state.

He claimed his gambling increased during the Rhoden family massacre investigation in April 2016, and he stayed up late at night because he couldn’t sleep.

Prosecutors asked the judge for a lengthy prison sentence.

“His sworn duty was to enforce the law and, instead, he repeatedly broke the law,” wrote Robert Smith, the assistant chief legal counsel for Ohio Auditor’s Office. “The defendant has, through his criminal conduct, done everything in his power to undermine public support for law enforcement.”

Reader’s attorney, James Boulger, requested leniency.

He filed medical and psychological reports with the court stating Reader suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and “he has clearly been traumatized by his career as a police officer.”

“His work consumed him and left him in a precarious mental state. The wheels came off,” Boulger wrote.

Reader suffers from paranoia and flashbacks and night terrors from investigating execution-style Rhoden slayings.

Reader was one of the initial investigators on the case, and it’s not clear yet if his criminal case will impact his credibility and the prosecution of four members of the Wagner family charged with the killings.

MORE | Pike County Massacre

Criminal justice experts have said that if Reader were convicted of crimes, that could be a problem for the prosecution, especially if he played a major role in the investigation.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost previously told FOX19 NOW Reader’s indictment would “have no impact on the Wagner capital murder case, as Sheriff Reader was not the primary witness for any issue of fact or law. Ohio sheriffs act with integrity and honor, and this rare occurrence does not reflect the excellent work they do daily throughout their counties.”

Yost issued a statement Wednesday after Reader was sentenced and taken into custody.

“No one is above the law – and there are rightful consequences for violating the public trust. Today’s sentencing closes an ugly chapter for Pike County, whose citizens deserve government free of corruption.”

Extra security was out in full force at the Pike County Courthouse.

Law enforcement officers were visible on top of buildings, streets were blocked and U.S. Marshals were there.

The new Pike County sheriff tells FOX19 NOW it was done out of an abundance of precaution.

“We were prepared for the worst. Statements were made of mass protesters,” Sheriff Evans said. “There were anonymous tips and past indirect statements from unreliable sources. However, we wanted to take the necessary measures to protect the court and everyone inside.”

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