Ohio Attorney General appointed special prosecutor after Butler County auditor accused of misconduct

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and any of his assistant attorney generals have been appointed...
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and any of his assistant attorney generals have been appointed special prosecutors as the criminal investigation proceeds into alleged misconduct by Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, Sheriff Richard Jones confirms to FOX19 NOW.(Provided/file)
Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 9:59 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 3:36 PM EDT
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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and any of his assistant attorney generals have been appointed special prosecutors as the criminal investigation proceeds into alleged misconduct by Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, Sheriff Richard Jones confirms to FOX19 NOW.

Since late August, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating an allegation of misconduct involving Reynolds regarding the development of property owned by his father Randall Reynolds, the sheriff said in a statement last week.

As the investigation expanded, the sheriff’s office consulted with Attorney General Yost, who assigned investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation “to assist with this criminal investigation,” Jones’ statement read.

On Thursday, Sheriff Jones told FOX19 NOW: “BCI agents and the sheriff’s office investigators met this week and they determined that a special prosecutor was needed. At that point, contact was made with the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and we requested a special prosecutor be appointed for the Roger Reynolds investigation. It’s good for the attorney general’s office to come in with their expertise and review our case as we proceed forward.”

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser filed a motion Wednesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court “to appoint Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and any of his Assistant Attorney Generals, as special prosecutor for Butler County.”

Gmoser’s court filing does not mention Reynolds, any specific allegation or case.

He declined comment for this story.

Gmoser’s motion states: “The Special Prosecutions office of the Attorney General has specialized training and experience, and would assist the undersigned in the discharge of his duties with regard to particular matters which are currently under investigation and not yet public.

“The Attorney General and his assistants would assist with all necessary actions to further prosecution and any related appellate work. The appointment of a special assistant prosecutor is without compensation by this county.”

Judge Keith Spaeth approved Gmoser’s request, according to a copy of Wednesday’s court entry.

FOX19 NOW reached out to Reynolds for comment. He sent us this response:

“My assistance with my parents land sale did not involve the auditor’s office or any official action as county auditor. I will fully cooperate and I look forward to resolving this issue.”

The sheriff’s office began investigating Reynolds after FOX19 NOW reported Aug. 28 he was seeking $1 million in public funds for road improvements as he facilitates the sale of his parents’ property for development.

Reynolds sent emails requesting meetings with staff at Butler County and Liberty and West Chester townships to discuss securing tax increment financing (TIF) for Hamilton Mason Road, copies of the emails show.

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, according to copies provided to FOX19 NOW via public records requests. Other emails, to township officials, 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 involving unrelated county business.

Conflict of interest? Butler County Auditor ‘just helping my dad’ pushes $1M TIF
Sheriff: Investigation underway into auditor’s potential conflict of interest

In a statement to FOX19 NOW last week, 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.

“BCI’s investigation is active and remains ongoing,” Steve Irwin, spokesman for BCI, said this week.

Sheriff: Investigation of Butler County auditor ‘has picked up and is getting more intensified’

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 recently told FOX19 NOW detectives have interviewed staff members and trustees in Butler County as well as both West Chester and Liberty Townships.

The findings also will be turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission, according to the sheriff.

In an Aug. 27 interview with FOX19 NOW, 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 contacted him for comment a few days later, after the sheriff told us the matter was now 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.”

Reynolds listed his father, 80, as one of his creditors over $1,000 on his 2020 financial disclosure report, which was filed in May of this year with the Ohio Ethics Commission, a copy of it shows.

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.

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