Attorney General details criminal case against Butler County auditor in suspension request to Ohio Supreme Court
BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday officially asked the Ohio Supreme Court to suspend Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who is facing felony corruption charges.
Monday’s court records detail for the first time the evidence against Reynolds and most of the charges are related to a current civil suit naming Reynolds, his company, Liberty Way Farms and others.
The Attorney General’s Office says Reynolds’ alleged criminal conduct directly relates to his performance of his duties as the Butler County Auditor, and “adversely affects the functioning of the office and the rights and interests of the public.
“Without question, the felony acts alleged in the indictment and the additional misdemeanor offenses, are directly tied to Reynolds’ position as Butler County Auditor. The indictment alleges violations of the very laws that guard against the misuse of public office and authority for personal gain,” the court filing states.
The facts alleged in the indictment “destroy any expectation that Reynolds will exercise independent judgment to benefit the community in acting in any official matters for the (County) and not for the purpose of lining his own pockets,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote.
Reynolds, the county’s Republican chief financial officer since 2008, was indicted last week on five charges for allegedly using his elected position for personal gain.
Three of the charges are felonies: bribery and two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract. The other two charges are misdemeanors: conflict of interest, and unlawful use of authority.
If convicted, Reynolds, 52, of Liberty Township, faces a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison and thousands in fines.
His first court date in the case is Thursday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
The Attorney General’s Office says “Reynolds misused his influence and position as the elected Butler County Auditor in an attempt to obtain pecuniary benefits for himself and/or his family member. This abuse of authority would not have been possible but for Reynolds’ position as the Butler County Auditor.
Reynolds’ criminal acts, as alleged in the indictment, “adversely affect not only the functioning of his office but also the entire Butler County government and the townships which rely on the County,” court records state.
“When the citizens entrust individuals to run their government on their behalf, they vest those elected officials with significant authority to make decisions that affect their lives and communities in critical ways. Butler County voters are entitled to have those decisions made in a fair and ethical manner.
The Attorney General’s Office says Reynolds “cannot be left to continue to exercise the rights and privileges as the Butler County Auditor while under criminal indictment for misusing the authority of that very office. Further, Reynolds’ efforts to unlawfully influence public contracts for his own pecuniary gain erodes trust and confidence in the Butler County government as a whole.
The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court will now appoint three retired judges to review the facts.
The panel can suspend officials while the criminal case proceeds through the court system. In all, the process could take 1-2 months. Reynold has a right to dispute it and present his case against it.
Suspended public officials can still receive their taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits.
Reynolds was paid $106,498 last year and is expected to collect $108,362 this year, according to the Butler County Treasurer’s Office.
Reynolds’ lawyer has made it clear to us they will fight the criminal charges and the suspension.
“Mr. Reynolds has never solicited, accepted, or paid any bribes, and he has never used his position, authority or influence to improperly benefit himself or anyone else,” his attorney, Chad Ziepfel said in a statement last week.
“Not only are the allegations false, but they do not involve the Auditor’s office or Mr. Reynolds’ work as the Auditor. We hope that the community will not rush to judgment in this matter, and will wait for the full story to come out at trial.”
We reached his lawyer Monday night and asked him to comment on the Attorney General’s court filing to the supreme court.
“Mr. Reynolds denies these allegations and will contest the suspension. We again ask the public to keep an open mind about this matter until the real facts come out at trial,” Ziepfel wrote to us in response.
Reynolds is up for re-election this year and, so far, his legal troubles have not changed his plans.
He filed petitions last month to run in the May 3 Republican primary and will face West Chester Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Reynolds in late August after FOX19 NOW reported Reynolds 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 near Maud Hughes Road as he facilitated the sale of his parents’ property into a $20 million senior residential complex.
The road improvements are needed before the project, called “Red Oak,” can proceed.
Reynolds’ direct involvement to obtain this public contract broke the law, Yost’s office says.
“While Reynolds was pursuing avenues to develop his father’s land he became interested in obtaining public Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund improvements along Hamilton-Mason Road, which would permit the development,” Monday’s court filing states.
“Because of the large amount of TIF financing needed for the improvements, the goal was for Liberty Township and West Chester Township, through which Hamilton-Mason Road runs, and Butler County to split the financing (so) both the townships and Butler County would have to approve the TIF.
“While serving as the sitting Butler County Auditor, Reynolds made contact with public officials from Liberty Township, West Chester Township and Butler County to influence their decision in approving the TIF financing.
“The proposed TIF-financed improvements to Hamilton-Mason Road were needed to pursue lucrative development of Roger Reynolds’ property. Reynolds employed the authority or influence of his position as the Butler County Auditor to influence and/or attempt to secure the authorization of a public contract (the TIF financing) in which he and/or a family member had an interest and/or would benefit. The public contract would have been entered into by West Chester Township, Liberty Township and Butler County, for which Reynolds is the County Auditor.”
Last year, FOX19 NOW interviewed Reynolds’ parents’ next-door neighbor, Gerald Parks, his daughter, Tina Barlow, and their attorney.
They told us Reynolds was using his position as county auditor to block development on Parks’ property and to raise his taxes by pulling its agricultural designation.
They said it happened after Parks turned down an offer from Reynolds’ to purchase his land below market value in October 2015.
At the time, Parks - a retired Baptist minister - was caring for his wife, Helen, who was in the final stages of a battle against cancer.
“In his position, I would think it would be illegal to do that, use his leverage to kill my sale,” Parks said in a Sept. 9 interview with FOX19 NOW on the front porch of his home.
“I have an attorney now. My daughter has been tremendously helpful to me, too. I’d like to sell it.”
When we asked him what he thought of Reynolds’ offer, he responded: “At that time, my wife was deathly sick and I didn’t give it a real lot of thought.”
He paused a few moments before adding: “She later died.”
Helen Parks, 81, succumbed to cancer on Oct. 16, 2015. She passed away at home, surrounded by her family.
A few weeks after our interview last fall, Parks, his daughter and their family trust all sued Reynolds, his company Liberty Way Farms, and others, alleging bribery, extortion and tortious interference with Parks’ business contracts.
By that point, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office had joined the sheriff’s investigation.
Yost appointed an assistant prosecuting attorney from his office to serve as special prosecutor. The Ohio Ethics Commission also was involved.
In his request to the state supreme court to begin suspension proceedings against Reynolds, Yost’s office wrote that Reynolds and his father own real estate along the road and wanted to develop the property “but their ability to do it was impeded by access issues on Hamilton Mason Road. Specifically, a portion of that road narrowed to go under train tracks at a point called ‘the mouse hole.’
“In 2019, a private developer was interested in developing Mr. (Gerald) Parks’ land on Hamilton-Mason Road and offered him $1.9 million for the property. Roger Reynolds owned a 2-to-3-acre property adjacent to the land owned by Parks,” the court records state.
“The Butler County Auditor valued Reynolds’ land at $21,000. Auditor Reynolds met with a representative of the company developing the Parks land and expressed concerns that the Parks land lacked the required amount of green space. Reynolds offered to sell the development company his father’s land for $500,000 and proposed that he (Auditor Reynolds) serve as a consultant to guide the development company through the various requirements for Butler County and Liberty Township, in which is where the land is located.
“Reynolds suggested that as a consultant, Reynolds made clear to a representative of the company that he would his power to stop the development. The proposal to develop Mr. Parks’ land ultimately fell through. Reynolds knowingly solicited the $200,000 to corrupt or improperly influence the development of the Parks and Reynolds land.”
The state’s request to the Supreme Court also for the first time outlines allegations against Reynolds by two developers and two trustees: one from West Chester and another from Liberty Township.
The allegations about the developers are included in the civil suit as well.
Monday’s court records name them: Brian Jimenz and Tim Haid of Jimenez Haid Custom Builders.
They told detectives they spoke with Reynolds multiple times where he referred to working on their behalf to secure a TIF on Hamilton-Mason Road for their development for a consulting fee, according to a copy of a sheriff’s report included in the court records.
The men turned over their handwritten notes detailing two telephone calls with Reynolds, the sheriff’s report states. A third phone call among the men was recorded.
Jimenez and Haid told detectives Reynolds said he would “use all of his political capital” to prevent Parks from making any money on his property and would make it hard for Parks to develop it,” the report states.
The developers stopped trying to develop property in Butler County in August 2021 due to their development being denied on all levels of application in the county and Liberty Township.
“They feel this is directly connected to them not paying the consulting fee to Roger Reynolds and do not plan on returning to Butler County because of Roger Reynolds involvement in the development process.”
Detectives also recovered text messages of Reynolds to Liberty Township Trustee Steve Schramm to set up the TIF (public money funding) to assist in the development of his father’s property, the sheriff’s report shows.
When detectives spoke with Schramm, “he stated that he advised Roger Reynolds that he felt they were very close to crossing a line ‘politically’ that he was not comfortable with. Mr. Schramm stated Roger Reynolds continued with the TIF attempt by speaking with other trustees in Liberty and West Chester townships,” reads a copy of a sheriff’s report attached to Monday’s court filing.
Reached for comment, Schramm said: “Since it now looks like I will be an active part of pending litigation, public interest will be best served with my silence.”
Detectives also interviewed West Chester Trustee Mark Welch who told them he contacted Reynolds to ask him to be on his host committee for (the Fall 2021 election of which Welch won), according to the sheriff’s report.
“After Mr. Reynolds agreed to be on his host committee he offered Mr. Welch a donation of $1,000. After that statement, Mr. Reynolds asked Mr. Welch about the TIF proposal on Hamilton-Mason Road and asked for his support,” the report states.
“Later in the investigation, detectives spoke with Mr. Welch again and he stated he never received the donations from either Roger or (his father) Raymond Reynolds.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the State Auditor’s Office told FOX19 NOW they are aware of reports about Reynolds and “will take the information into consideration” during the county’s regular financial audit, which is ongoing right now.
Taxpayers will not fund Reynolds’ criminal defense, according to Butler County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson.
But they did shell out the $100,000 insurance deductible to defend Reynolds in the civil lawsuit that now has direct ties to the criminal case, according to Monday’s court filing.
Last week, FOX19 NOW requested a copy of that contract from Reynolds, Chief Deputy Auditor Dawn Mills and Deputy Auditor David Brown.
We wanted to look over the conditions to see if the related conviction of crime or crimes, and/or determination of malicious intent nullifies it - and if that happened, would the taxpayers get their $100,000 deductible back?
We did not receive a response, so we have re-sent our request and copied the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.
Parks’ lawyer recently requested to take a video recording of Reynolds’ deposition in the lawsuit on March 22.
On Friday, Reynolds’ lawyer filed a request to the visiting judge on the civil case to issue a “stay” to halt proceedings in the civil case “pending resolution of the recently-filed criminal case against Mr. Reynolds.
“The criminal proceeding arises from the same underlying facts as this civil action. Mr. Reynold and Liberty Way Farms should not be saddled with the impossible burden of attempting to present their civil defense in a manner that protects Mr. Reynolds’ Fifth Amendment rights.
A memo in support of the motion states:
“At present, Mr. Reynolds is faced with a Hobson’s choice to either assert his Fifth Amendment privilege and have a negative inference drawn in the civil case along with additional negative publicity in this highly-publicized case, or provide answers in discovery proceedings and risk those responses being used to attempt to incriminate him in a pending criminal proceeding.”
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