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Judge recuses himself from lawsuit accusing Butler County elected officials of alleged bribery

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: Oct. 4, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) -- The Butler County judge assigned to handle a lawsuit filed last week against Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds and Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell, accusing them of alleged bribery among other allegations, won’t be overseeing the case, according to the judge’s office.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Haughey recused himself and other judges are being asked to consider taking the case, Haughey’s office said Monday. If no local judge takes it, the lawsuit will be heard by a visiting judge.

Judges are not required to state why they recuse themselves from cases.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by 87-year-old Gerald Parks, his daughter/power of attorney and his family trust. Parks owns land on both sides of Hamilton Mason Road in West Chester and Liberty townships.

Parks claims he’s lost contracts to sell his land for development due to their “tortious interference with him and his business dealings,” resulting in a loss of more than $1 million, after turning down an “undervalued” offer from Reynolds to buy some of his land in 2015.

The suit alleges Reynolds told Parks to sell his property to Reynolds or “be land-locked and Roger Reynolds would see to is that any proposed development of the Property would never get through planning and zoning.”

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

Reynolds, Farrell and Rumpke are named in both their professional and personal capacities. The suit additionally names Liberty Township Board of Trustees and Liberty Way Farms Inc. Reynolds is listed in state business filings as the agent of Liberty Way Farms.

Parks’ lawsuit alleges Reynolds promised public money via tax increment financing to pay for the redevelopment of Hamilton Mason Road, a requirement for that development and the developer, who had told Parks’ attorney he wanted to buy some of his land for the senior living development - a contract value that could have been as much as $1.5 million - instead bought Reynolds’ parents’ land.

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 one developer he needed more green space. 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 the developer he needed “more green space,” the same comment Reynolds made earlier that same day. That developer then told Parks’ attorney he “didn’t want to be involved with the project that Roger Reynolds was interfering with” and terminated the contract they entered into with Parks.
  • Reynolds sought a $200,000 consulting fee from one of the developers for Parks’ land to get the project through the zoning process.
  • “As retribution for refusing to sell his property” to Reynolds, in 2017, “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.” 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. Parks also had a higher annual property tax rate from that point on.

A veteran special prosecutor, Brad Tommaro, recently was appointed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, to oversee an investigation involving Reynolds underway by Yost’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office launched the investigation in August after FOX19 NOW reported Reynolds, Butler County Auditor since April 2008, was seeking - at times using his county elected office email account - more than $1 million in public money for road improvements on Hamilton Mason Road, county emails show.

His parents own land along the road. Reynolds told FOX19 NOW on Aug. 27 he is helping his dad downsize his assets as his parents get older. His parents’ land is the site of a proposed $20 million senior living complex along Hamilton-Mason Road, Red Oak.

Reynolds’s Liberty Way Farms Inc. bought about 25 acres on the road in December from Hamilton Mason Properties LLC, according to county property records.

Hamilton Mason Properties LLC is owned by his parents, according to a quit claim deed filed at the Butler County Recorder’s Office.

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

Reynolds sent us a brief statement last week once the lawsuit was filed.

“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 Thursday 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 Thursday. “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 Rumpke a copy of the lawsuit and requested comment Thursday but have not heard back.

Liberty Township’s administrator said it’s township policy not to comment on pending litigation. The township’s law director also said he doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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)

Parks’ attorney, Chip Goff, declined comment last week 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.

Sheriff Jones has said “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.”

“The investigation remains ongoing,” BCI spokesman Steve Irwin said last week 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.”

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