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Trial date set in lawsuit alleging corruption involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds(Provided)
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 1:37 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2022 at 2:48 PM EST
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A trial date is set for June 2023 in a lawsuit alleging corruption involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who is under criminal investigation by local and state authorities, new court records show.

Authorities have not said if the allegations in the lawsuit are part of the probe by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The sheriff’s office is aware of the allegations and interviewed “lots of people,” Sheriff Jones told FOX19 NOW last fall.

On Tuesday, we reached a BCI spokesman for an update on the investigation and to see if the special prosecutor has decided whether or not to present any findings or evidence to a grand jury.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told FOX19 NOW late last year he expected the investigation to wrap up early this year.

“We do not have any additional information to share regarding the ongoing investigation,” BCI spokesman Steve Irwin responded. “I cannot comment on matters involving grand juries.”

Butler County Chief Deputy Tony Dwyer said the allegations in this investigation span several years and there’s a lot of information to process. 

“We’re continuing to work with BCI Agents and the Special Prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office and the investigation is still open and active,” he said Tuesday.

Last week, Liberty Township was the only defendant dismissed from the suit due to governmental immunity by a visiting judge.

The Ohio Supreme Court has appointed retired Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis Langer to handle the lawsuit after every local judge recused themselves.

Reynolds and Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell are accused in court records of bribery, tortious interference and ethics law violations by an 87-year-old man who owns property on both the West Chester and Liberty Township sides of Hamilton Mason Road.

Gerald Parks claims he’s lost three development 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 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 records show.

All three men are sued in their personal and professional capacities.

Lawyers for the defendants denied the allegations in court records filed last year and asked the judge to throw out the case.

The judge, however, wrote in a ruling last week the court was not persuaded.

FOX19 NOW reached out to lawyers of all parties for comment Tuesday.

They all declined to comment last week or did not respond when we contacted them over the lawsuit proceeding except against Liberty Township.

Reynolds issued a brief statement to us last fall when we contacted him about the lawsuit:

“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.”

Parks’ lawyer, who has refuted Reynolds’ statement, declined to comment Tuesday on the trial date being set.

“The Township does not comment on pending litigation,” responded Scott Phillips, the attorney for Liberty Township who also represents Farrell as a trustee and in his personal capacity.

Last week, Farrell re-issued a statement he put out last fall after the lawsuit was filed. It reads in part: “Lawsuits are one of the risks of being an elected official, as it is often times the last resort for those who fail to meet our zoning standards.

“I have spent my entire life building a reputation of honesty and fairness, I have heard zoning cases for almost 20 years, I have always, and will always, listen to both sides and follow the rules and regulations set forth by the ORC, our zoning, and our comprehensive vision plan. Please do not let questionably timed false accusations against me affect a reputation that took a lifetime to build. The township is filing a motion to dismiss, and I am confident that these false allegations will be dismissed and my reputation for honesty and fairness supported.”

The lawsuit alleges Parks’ civil rights were violated by a series of events 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.

Reynolds was raised in a home with his parents and siblings that is next door to the Parks family on the West Chester side of Hamilton-Mason Road, according to the lawsuit.

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.”

Gerald Parks
Gerald Parks(FOX19 NOW)

Reynolds has been under criminal investigation since August by the sheriff’s office.

BCI and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office joined the case in September, and the Ohio Ethics Commission also is involved.

The sheriff’s office began investigating after FOX19 NOW reported the 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 as he facilitated the sale of his parents’ property into a $20 million senior residential complex.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appointed a veteran special prosecutor to oversee the investigation.

In a statement to FOX19 NOW back in September, 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.”

He recently told FOX19 NOW he anticipates the probe will wrap up early this year.

Yost and Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones have repeatedly declined to discuss the details of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

The probe was already underway when Parks filed his lawsuit in September.

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 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 him he needed “more green space.” 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.
  • “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.
An investigation is underway into a potential conflict of interest by Butler County’s longtime...
An investigation is underway into a potential conflict of interest by Butler County’s longtime auditor, Roger Reynolds, Sheriff Richard Jones confirmed on Monday, Aug. 27, 2021.(Provided/file)

The executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, Paul Nick, has repeatedly declined to comment as a matter of policy, not as a confirmation or denial whether they are investigating.

Generally, under the conflict of interest statute, the use of authority could include using your office to try and influence other officeholders, Ohio law shows.

There are various penalties for violating ethics laws.

Use of authority penalty is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

The Ohio Ethics Commission website also states:

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

And:

“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.”

Last year, when FOX19 NOW asked Reynolds the sheriff’s office launching an investigation: “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.”

When FOX19 NOW first interviewed Reynolds on Aug. 24 about his parents’ land development deal and seeking public money for road improvements, he responded: “I am just helping my dad trying to start downsizing his assets as they get older.”

He said he thought the senior living community would be a great addition to the community. He said the property is not his and he had no financial benefit: “It’s 100% my dad’s land.”

He has said he didn’t see anything wrong with seeking public money for the road improvements, even when we pointed out he used his elected office email account in emails to county officials at times, in addition to a personal email account.

“Just like I told you on Friday, “Reynolds told us back on Monday, Aug. 27 when we called him back for comment because the sheriff’s office had launched an investigation, “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.”

We asked Reynolds at that time if he sought an advisory opinion with the Ohio Ethics Commission or Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.

He responded:

“As long as I didn’t do anything within my own office there isn’t an issue with me working as a private citizen and making requests of other offices. That’s what I did. Non-story.”

The Ohio Ethics Commission confirmed back in September they never received a request from Reynolds for an advisory opinion.

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 because he anticipated the township would reject the plan after its zoning commission recommended denial, Parks attorney says.(FOX19 NOW)

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