Butler County elected official quits board amid criminal probe, lawsuit alleging ‘corrupt’ land deal
HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - A Madison Township trustee stepped down from his longtime post on the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals this week amid a criminal investigation and federal lawsuit.
In February, Alan Daniel cast a deciding vote for variances allowing a Dollar General store at the corner of Keister and Middletown German roads in Madison Township, according to county record and federal court documents.
FOX19 NOW reported earlier this year the land for the Dollar General at the time of the vote was owned by Daniel’s son and was personally mortgaged by Daniel himself, according to Butler County property and recorder records.
A group of Madison Township residents sued over the alleged corrupt land deal.
The suit names Butler County, its board of zoning appeals, and Daniel, both in his professional and personal capacities.
Earlier this month, a federal judge issued a temporary order that effectively halts commercial development from proceeding while the legality of the variances is investigated further in court.
The residents, many of who live adjacent to the proposed Dollar General store, allege in the lawsuit the county’s process was “corrupt” and county officials ignored repeated requests to do something about it.
“Daniel.... stood to personally profit from the variances he voted to grant,” reads the lawsuit, filed in Cincinnati federal court on Oct. 15.
“When the process you offer is this corrupted, you didn’t offer a process at all,” the residents’ attorney, Matt Miller-Novak, tells FOX19 NOW.
A criminal investigation was launched over the summer after the Butler County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous complaint about the vote.
That probe is still underway and the findings will be turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission and Butler County Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff Richard Jones said Tuesday.
“His resigning from this position is just the beginning of his problems and the tip of the iceberg,” the sheriff said.
“There is such mistrust with people in government positions that it diminishes the integrity and trust of the community they serve. In these times of mistrust and corruption in our government, this will not be tolerated in this county by any public official. It’s not their private piggy bank. Sometimes people forget they are there to serve the public, not themselves.”
Sheriff Jones declined further comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
The residents recently told county commissioners they were required by law to hold a hearing to at least consider removing Daniel.
The hearing was set for Monday, Nov. 1 after the regular county commission meeting, but that issue is now moot.
Late Monday, Oct. 25, Daniel resigned from the board of zoning appeals, an appointed position he held for more than 20 years, county records show.
“With regret, I am informing you of my decision to resign my position on the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals,” reads a copy of the letter he wrote to Assistant County Prosecutor Dan Ferguson, obtained from the county via a public records request.
“It has been an honor to serve the people of Butler County for so many years. I have always tried to do my best to make decisions that were in the best interests of the County and the residents, and I believe I have done some good along the way.
“I am sorry for all the trouble caused by the vote in which I participated in February of this year, and I can assure you I would make a different decision knowing the problem it has caused.”
Daniel also was elected trustee in Madison Township in 1995, according to the Butler County Board of Elections. He’s won his seat every four years ever since.
The lawsuit and Daniel’s resignation only apply to the BZA.
He remains an elected trustee in Madison and continues to collect his taxpayer-funded paycheck and benefits.
Daniel and his attorney have repeatedly declined to comment and did not respond to FOX19 NOW Tuesday.
The residents claim in their lawsuit that state and local zoning laws give adjacent property owners like them the standing to challenge variance requests before the BZA.
But the residents “had no real chance to challenge the variances in this case, because the Board was not fairly constituted and neutrally composed.”
The residents oppose the variances because they believe that the increased traffic and litter would interfere with their peaceful enjoyment of their own land, their lawsuit states.
The suit goes on to say the residents’ rights were violated due to Daniel’s “clear and unethical conflict of interests.”
Alan Daniel and Todd Daniel purchased the property in question together for $87,500 on Oct. 29, 2004, according to the Butler County Recorder’s Office.
Alan Daniel gave his share of the land to his son for $36,000 in January 2013, property appraisal and recorder records show. His wife released all her dower rights to the property.
Until recently, other records filed in January 2013 at the recorder’s office show Alan Daniel held the mortgage for $36,000, plus interest.
That same record also shows Todd Daniel’s wife “of said mortgagor releases to Mortgagee all rights of dower in the above-described property.”
Daniel no longer holds the mortgage to the property because it was sold earlier this month according to his son, Todd Daniel.
Todd Daniel, who works for Madison Township as the road superintendent/cemetery sexton, recently declined to elaborate on details of the sale: “I’m just glad it’s over.”
According to Denise Goll, chief deputy at the Butler County Recorder’s Office, Daniel sold the land for $250,000 and the new owner, CD DG Germantown LLC of Texas, has taken out a $1.49 million mortgage.
On Tuesday, Todd Daniel said he had nothing new to say.
Earlier this month, he passionately defended his father and
“He’s not some criminal. He cares about this community,” said his son, who has worked for Madison Township for nearly 30 years, including 22 as road superintendent.
“I have prayed a lot about this. I just felt it was the right time to stand up for him. He should have abstained from the vote and we all know that now,” his son told FOX19 NOW on Oct. 8.
“When you are in a small community, there’s votes that come up on a regular basis that are going to affect either your neighbor or your family or someone you care about. That’s the reality when you are in a small community. You just have to do what’s right for the community and keep moving forward.”
The Ohio Ethics Commission has said they could not confirm or deny any allegations or investigative activity. Under state law, the only investigative documents from the commission that are public record are settlement agreements.
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.”
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser tells FOX19 NOW his office is representing the county in the federal lawsuit and the county’s insurance carrier also is assisting.
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