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Ohio AG, BCI join ‘criminal investigation’ of Butler County auditor, sheriff says

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 11:03 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2021 at 3:13 PM EDT
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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - The investigative law enforcement agency for the state of Ohio is joining the probe into Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, Sheriff Richard Jones announced Friday.

“Since late August, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating (an) allegation of misconduct involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds regarding the development of property owned by his father Randall Reynolds. As this investigation has expanded, the Sheriff’s Office consulted with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost,” Jones said in a statement.

“Subsequently, the Attorney General has assigned investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to assist with this criminal investigation. Anyone with information regarding this investigation should contact Detective Ryan Hensley of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office: 513-785-1000.”

In a statement to FOX19 NOW, Attorney General Yost said: “Fortunately, local law enforcement rarely has to deal with public corruption in Ohio. These cases can become very complicated and often require specialized expertise, which the Attorney General’s Office can bring to the table. We will work closely with Sheriff Jones until this investigation is complete.”

The sheriff’s office began investigating Reynolds after FOX19 NOW reported Aug. 28 the county’s elected fiscal watchdog was seeking $1 million in public funds for road improvements to facilitate the sale of his parents’ property for development.

Reynolds sent multiple emails requesting meetings with staff at Butler County and Liberty and West Chester townships to discuss securing tax increment financing (TIF) to improve Hamilton Mason Road.

Some emails were sent from his county elected office email system to County Administrator Judi Boyko and a manager at the Butler County Engineer’s Office, copies of them show. Other emails were sent from his personal account.

One string of emails, again on his county account, reveal he requested a meeting with Boyko about the TIF after responding to her message regarding completely unrelated county business.

FOX19 NOW reached out to Reynolds, the county auditor since 2008, multiple times for comment Friday but did not hear back.

We received an email from his county account Wednesday when sought comment on similar issues.

“We are still working on your requests. I expect to have a response to you by early next week. Thank you for your patience,” the email stated.

On Friday morning, just after the sheriff announced BCI joined the investigation, Butler County Deputy Auditor David Brown put out a news release stating: “Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds is providing nearly $2.3 million in unspent real estate fee money to local governments this year.

The money is being distributed back to the local levy funds from which it came to help educate children, build roads, fund police and fire operations, and directly benefit local taxpayers, the release states.

“This has been an ongoing commitment by Reynolds since assuming office in 2008,” the news release read. “The Auditor’s Office has now returned a total of $19.7 million in cost savings and more than $1.9 million for the seventh time in eight years.”

The public money Reynolds has been seeking will pay for road improvements needed for a $20 million senior living community proposed on land his parents own on the south side of Hamilton Mason Road, township and county records show.

That property also is directly across the street from land he recently acquired from his parents near Maud Hughes Road, county property records and state business filings show.

Sheriff Jones said detectives have interviewed county officials and trustees in both West Chester and Liberty Townships as potential witnesses.

The findings will be turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission and Butler County Prosecutor’s Office to review, according to the sheriff.

In an interview last month, Reynolds dismissed suggestions his attempt to secure public funding could pose a potential conflict of interest, saying: “I am just helping my dad trying to start to downsize his assets as they get older.”

He also said: “I didn’t see anything wrong with it at all. TIFs are used to make road improvements to further some of the development in this area.”

It’s not his property, he stressed, saying he has no financial benefit.

“It’s 100% my dad’s land.”

We also contacted him for comment a few days later, after the sheriff told us the matter was under investigation.

At that time, Reynolds remained firm there was no issue and stressed he was within his rights as a “private citizen.”

“Just like I told you on Friday,” he said on Monday, Aug. 30, “it was nothing that took place within my office related to this project and because of that, as of private citizen I am allowed to make requests of other offices. So nothing was wrong with what I did.”

The Ohio Ethics Commission website states:

“Remember, public servants may NOT take any action in matters that definitely and directly affect themselves, their family members, or their business associates.”

It also states:

“When someone in public service is confronted with a conflict of interest, he or she must completely abstain from making decisions about or influencing how the matter is resolved.”

Under Ohio’s conflict of interest statute, “use of authority” could include using your office to try and influence other office holders.

Penalties for violating ethics laws vary.

A finding of “use of authority” is a misdemeanor punishable up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail.

“I am glad to see the Sheriff’s Office and now the Attorney General are taking these allegations seriously,” said Chip Goff, attorney for longtime Hamilton Mason Road resident Gerald Parks.

He says they are considering litigation against Reynolds in both his personal and professional capacity.

Parks, 87, his daughter and his attorney all tell FOX19 NOW Reynolds offered to buy 15 acres of his land in 2015 for less that what Parks felt was fair in the current market value.

The property has since been appraised at $2 million, according to Goff and Parks’ daughter.

The elderly resident was struggling with his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis at the time. He ultimately turned down Reynolds offer after his daughter says she found out and raised concerns.

Goff’s attorney provided us with the following statement from Parks’ daughter, Tina Barlow:

““He took my dad to Frisch’s for coffee. Roger explained to him that he knew of development in the area and it would be easy for him to get this passed through the board, because he knew all the players. At this time, one of the pain medications my mom taking was close to $700. Roger told my dad he knew my dad could use the money because of my mom’s medical bills and he could use the money because Roger had kids to put through college. He continued to have discussions with my dad wanting to purchase this property, even as far as drawing up a contract.

“Thankfully, I happened to be at my parents’ house one night when I overheard my dad talking about this contract. It was an option to buy, $9,000 down now, with $475,000 five years later. There is no question in my mind that Roger knew the property was worth more than that amount. When I showed my dad prices that property had sold for in the area and explained that he could not sell for that price he said that Roger told him if he didn’t sell to him my dad’s property would be land locked, and he wouldn’t be able to sell it without Roger.”

His daughter’s statement ends with: “Roger told you in his interview that he was just trying to help his dad. I am just trying to protect mine from Roger Reynolds.”

Gerald Parks, 87, is a longtime resident on Hamilton Mason Road with property along both sides...
Gerald Parks, 87, is a longtime resident on Hamilton Mason Road with property along both sides of the road in West Chester and Liberty townships. Parks and his lawyer tell FOX19 NOW they believe Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds' actions have hindered Parks' ability to sell his land for development after Parks turned down an offer from Reynolds to purchase his property for far below fair market value.(FOX19 NOW)

“Based upon Roger Reynolds comments to the Planning and Zoning Commissions in both Butler County and Liberty Township,” Parks attorney said, “it is clear that he is trying to control the development alongside Hamilton Mason Road in both West Chester Township and Liberty Township for both his and his father’s benefit.

“At the Planning and zoning hearings, Roger Reynolds has unjustifiably accused Mr. Parks, his developers, and realtors of carving out Mr. Parks property to develop a product that neither Roger Reynolds nor the neighboring land owners have a problem with.

“Despite approving of the latest development product, Mr. Reynolds opposed it. He is fine if it take 15 years to plan a development in this area; years Mr. Parks does not have. Additionally, there are no known contracts or interest in developing any of the land adjacent to Mr. Parks’ property; he is the only one with development interest.

“It is even more disheartening that the Planning and Zoning Commissioners and the Liberty Township Trustees accept comments from Roger and ignore the developers. In April 2021 the proposed development on Mr. Parks’ property was for a 55+ senior community, the same as the community Roger is advocating for his father directly across the street.

“One Liberty Township Planning and Zoning Commissioner actually stated Mr. Parks’ development ‘will not bring a better quality of people into our township.’ This is unacceptable and litigation is likely.”

A Liberty Township trustee, Steve Schram, responded to our request for comment.

“It is very disappointing to me to see this whole issue unfold. Despite my personal feelings that Liberty Township has done absolutely nothing wrong, our attorney is rightly concerned about some of the implications of Mr. Parks attorneys’ comments. I will honor his request to make no additional comments at this time. It is not my style to ‘shut up’, but my legal acumen is limited to a few nights in a Holiday Inn Express.”

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