Advertisement

Corruption-related allegations in lawsuit against Butler County auditor, Liberty trustee

Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell (left) and Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds (right).
Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell (left) and Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds (right).(Provided)
Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:38 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) -- A lawsuit filed Thursday accuses three officials in Butler County of corruption-related allegations, including one who is the subject of a criminal investigation underway right now by local and state authorities.

Auditor Roger Reynolds and Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell are accused in court records of alleged bribery, tortious interference and ethics law violations related to an 87-year-old man and his land development contracts.

Gerald Parks claims he’s lost three contracts due to their “tortious interference with him and his business dealings,” resulting in a loss of at least $1.3 million.

Reynolds also is accused of alleged extortion, the suit states, and a member of the county’s planning and zoning commission, Bernard “Buck” Rumpke, is accused of an alleged ethics law violation as well as tortious interference, court documents state.

The 23-count lawsuit names the plaintiffs as Gerald Parks, who owns properties in both West Chester and Liberty townships along Hamilton Mason Road; his daughter/power of attorney and his family trust.

Reynolds, Farrell and Rumpke are named in both their professional and personal capacities. The suit additionally names Liberty Township Board of Trustees.

Court documents say Parks’ civil rights were violated by a series of alleged actions that began after he turned down an “undervalued” offer from Reynolds to purchase one of his parcels of land in 2015.

At the time, Parks and his family were coping with his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

“Roger’s hindered me tremendously. He’s been a thorn in my flesh,” Parks told FOX19 NOW in an interview earlier this month.

Gerald Park
Gerald Park(FOX19 NOW)

The lawsuit claims Reynolds attempted to take advantage of his wife’s illness by expressing that he was aware of Parks’ financial condition because of it and “he just wanted to help by purchasing the Property.

“In October 2015, Roger Reynolds made Mr. Parks an undervalued offer via what was titled an option contract for the purchase price of $475,000 and a down payment of $9,000,” court documents state.

“Following this offer, Mr. Reynolds pressured Mr. Parks to make a decision to sell the Property to himself by claiming he was in a position to assure any proposed development on (Parks’ land) on Hamilton Mason Road would be approved by the local zoning boards.

“After consultation with his daughter, Parks met with Reynolds at a local Frisch’s Restaurant and told Reynolds that he was not interested in selling his property at this time and certainly not for the price Reynolds offered him,” the suit states.

“At that meeting, Roger Reynolds gave Mr. Parks an ultimatum: sell the Property to Roger Reynolds, or be land-locked and Roger Reynolds would see to it that any proposed development of the Property would never get through planning and zoning,” the suit reads.

Reynolds then allegedly went on, with Farrell and Rumpke, according to the litigation, conspiring to interfere with Parks’ “business relations and to cause intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Parks said he doesn’t care who buys his property, but he does want to get what he feels is a fair price.

“They always turned it down, found something wrong,” he said. “One guy fixed all the complaints they had. There was no complaints left, and they still turned it down. He just does not want me to sell the property unless I sell it to him.”

Other allegations in the suit, according to court records:

  • Reynolds “demanded” $500,000 from one of Parks’ developers to purchase two acres of Reynolds’ father’s land. The developer considered buying the additional acreage to add to Parks’ property for senior housing development.
  • Reynolds “incorrectly” told the developer he needed more greenspace. He also said he would use his clout to fight the proposed development if they didn’t buy his dad’s land.
  • The developer met later that same day with Farrell who allegedly told him he needed “more greenspace.” That developer told Parks’ attorney he “didn’t want to be involved with the project that Roger Reynolds was interfering with.”
  • Reynolds sought a $200,000 consulting fee from one of the developers for Parks’ land to get the project through the zoning process.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office began investigating in late August after FOX19 NOW reported Reynolds was seeking more than $1 million in public money to pay for improvements on Hamilton Mason Road as he facilitates the sale of his parents’ property into a $20 million senior residential complex. At times, he used his county elected-office email account in communications about it to county staff, copies of emails show.

Ohio AG, BCI join ‘criminal investigation’ of Butler County auditor, sheriff says
Sheriff: Investigation of Butler County auditor ‘has picked up and is getting more intensified’
Conflict of interest? Butler County Auditor ‘just helping my dad’ pushes $1M TIF
A sign advertises a Sept 21 zoning hearing for Gerald Parks' property on the north side of...
A sign advertises a Sept 21 zoning hearing for Gerald Parks' property on the north side of Hamilton Mason Road in Liberty Township. The developer pulled out of his contract with Parks the week before the hearing when because he anticipated the township would reject the plan after its zoning commission recommended denial, Parks attorney says.(FOX19 NOW)

As the investigation expanded earlier this month, the sheriff’s office consulted with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Yost assigned investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation “to assist with this criminal investigation,” Sheriff Richard Jones said in a statement earlier this month.

A special prosecutor was named last week to assist sheriff’s detectives and BCI agents, Senior Assistant Attorney General Brad Tommaro. He’s worked for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office more than 30 years.

“The investigation remains ongoing,” BCI spokesman Steve Irwin said Thursday when we sent him a copy of Parks’ lawsuit and requested comment and an update on the case.

“As such, we do not have any comment on the scope or direction of the investigation.”

Parks’ attorney, Chip Goff, declined comment Thursday when FOX19 NOW asked if he and/or the Parks family reported the allegations in the lawsuit to authorities, and if they were participating in the investigation.

“There is significant evidence to present to a Butler County jury regarding the defendants civil liability. We look forward to presenting the facts and supporting evidence to a jury,” Goff said, declining all further comment.

Sheriff Jones said in a brief statement to FOX19 NOW Thursday night: “The sheriff’s office is aware of his allegations and we have interviewed lots of people. I am not going to make any further comments at this time due to the ongoing investigation.”

FOX19 NOW has previously reached out to Reynolds in comment related to Parks, to no avail.

Reynolds released a statement to FOX19 NOW when we contacted him for comment Thursday afternoon:

“It appears Mr. Parks wants to add us to a long list of frivolous lawsuits he has filed over the years that includes suit against his own family. He’s making allegations that are absurd.”

When we followed up to see if Reynolds would elaborate or agree to a sit-down interview, he responded: “That’s all that’s needed.”

Farrell laughed when FOX19 NOW told him he was named in a lawsuit and informed him of the allegations.

“I have no idea what he is referring to. The only time I remember Mr. Parks is a case a couple of months ago, it was with retirement homes,” Farrell said. “It did not meet Liberty’s standards. It was turned down by both Liberty Township’s zoning commission and the trustees, unanimously. Those are the only dealings with him I can remember.”

We sent copies of the lawsuit to Reynolds, Farrell and Rumpke to review and get back to us if they had additional comments.

Rumpke said he would respond later Thursday night or Friday. He said he would be tied up at a virtual debate among candidates in Liberty and West Chester townships. He is running this fall for trustee in Liberty Township.

According to the lawsuit, Parks has been a neighbor of Reynolds’ parents, Raymond and Kathleen Reynolds, for more than 50 years.

Roger Reynolds and siblings grew up in the home next door to Parks, his wife, Helen and their children on Hamilton Mason Road.

Several years ago, Parks and his wife bought about 15 acres to the west of their home, in the 6700 block of Hamilton Mason Road on the Liberty Township side of the street, close to Maud-Hughes Road

The lawsuit claims Reynolds attempted to take advantage of Mrs. Parks’ wife’s illness by expressing that he was aware of Mr. Parks financial condition because of it and he just wanted to help by purchasing the Property.

“In October 2015, Roger Reynolds made Mr. Parks an undervalued offer via what was titled an option contract for the purchase price of $475,000 and a down payment of $9,000;

Following this offer, Mr. Reynolds pressured Mr. Parks to make a decision to sell the property to himself by claiming he was in a position to assure any proposed development on 6784 Hamilton Mason Road would be approved by the local zoning boards.

After consultation with his daughter in October 2015, Parks met with Reynolds at a local Frisch’s Restaurant and told Reynolds that he was not interested in selling his property at this time and certainly not for the price Reynolds offered him.

“At that meeting, Roger Reynolds gave Mr. Parks an ultimatum: sell the Property to Roger Reynolds, or be land-locked and Roger Reynolds would see to it that any proposed development of the Property would never get through planning and zoning,” the suit reads.

Then, the suit continues, “As retribution for refusing to sell the Property to Roger Reynolds, in 2017, Roger Reynolds, in his position as the Butler County Auditor revoked Parks’ CAUV (Current Agricultural Use Value) property tax designation and increased the taxable value of Mr. Parks property.”

Applications for CAUV must be filed with the county auditor. For property tax purposes, farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture may be valued according to its current use rather than at its “highest and best” potential use. By permitting values to be set well below true market values, the CAUV normally results in a substantially lower tax bill for working farmers.

Parks’ lawsuit claims Reynolds failed to provide any notice to Parks as to the revocation of his 2017 CAUV tax valuation, how to appeal it - and wouldn’t tell his daughter why it was revoked.

A $30,000 charge was levied against Parks on his first tax bill of 2018, the amount of tax savings that he had accumulated for the three previous years with the CAUV designation, his lawyer says.

Parks also had a higher annual property tax rate from that point on, according to the lawsuit.

FOX19 NOW has previously reached out to Reynolds for comment specific to Parks’ CAUV designation, to no avail.

A longtime employee at the auditor’s office, Harold Baxter, served as the CAUV administrator when Parks lost his CAUV designation.

Baxter, who retired over the summer, told FOX19 NOW when we recently asked him that he couldn’t recall what occurred to prompt the auditor’s office to pull Parks’ CAUV.

That sort of action usually would be the result of a complaint to the auditor’s office, he said.

If the auditor’s office was wrong, he said, landowners had the right to appeal it according to instructions provided to them in writing at the same time they received the CAUV revocation notice.

We asked a local criminal defense attorney who is not connected to the case to review the lawsuit and give us some perspective.

“If these allegations are true, this is something that now goes far beyond an ethics complaint,” said Christopher McDowelll.

“These allegations point to serious criminal activity. These are big dollars. This is a lot of money.”

McDowell is a member of the executive committee for the Hamilton County Republican Party, and a ward chairman.

“It’s very clear to me that if these allegations are true, he (Reynolds) should resign immediately. He has violated the people’s trust.”

McDowell said he was particularly troubled that Parks’ CAUV designation was revoked and the timing of it - after Parks wouldn’t sell his land to Reynolds, the county auditor who oversees the process.

“Why was that letter was ever issued in the first place?” McDowell asked.

Reynolds, he said, “should provide justification for taking it. Otherwise, it could appear it was done in attempt to pressure him into selling his land.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.

Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved.