Ohio Supreme Court launches suspension proceedings against Butler County auditor
HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - The Ohio Supreme Court launched suspension proceedings against Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who is accused of bribery and other corruption charges.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor appointed a “Special Commission,” or panel, of three retired judges to review the case.
The retired judges are David E. Cain of Franklin County, L. Alan Goldsberry from Athens County and James L. Kimbler of Medina County.
During the first 14 days of the special commission process, Reynolds can file with the prosecuting attorney a written statement with his reasons why he should not be suspended from office.
That written statement, if submitted, goes to the special commission for consideration. If the panel initially decides he should be suspended from public office, Reynolds will have 14 days to contest that decision.
If he contests, the commission must hold a meeting within 14 days.
Reynolds can appear at that meeting to present his position. He can have his attorney present for that meeting, but his legal counsel can’t act as a lawyer or advocate for him, or present evidence or examine or cross-examine witnesses before the commission.
If the panel ultimately decides Reynolds should be suspended from office, the official can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio within 30 days of the commission’s final determination.
All meetings of the special commission are closed to the public, and all records are not released until after the final determination.
Reynolds, Butler County’s chief financial officer since 2008, was indicted last month on a total of five charges for allegedly using his elected position for personal gain.
Bribery is a third-degree felony with a possible maximum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Reynolds also is charged with unlawful interest in a public contract, unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The other two felonies are fourth-degree charges.
He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on his own recognizance.
A trial is set for Aug. 15.
Reynolds, 52, of Liberty Township, faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The Ohio Supreme Court also recently appointed a retired and visiting judge from Franklin County, Daniel T. Hogan, to oversee the case.
All of the Butler County Common Pleas Court judges have recused themselves from this as well as a related civil case that Reynolds also faces.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Reynolds late last summer after FOX19 NOW reported he 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 in West Chester Township.
Reynolds’ direct involvement to obtain this public contract broke the law, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
FOX19 NOW also interviewed an 88-year-old neighbor of Reynolds’ parents, Gerald Parks, who owns multiple acres of land he has been trying to develop for years on the Liberty Township side of Hamilton-Mason Road.
Parks accused Reynolds of using his position as county auditor to increase his property taxes and block the development of Parks’ property after Parks turned down what he says was an under-market-value offer for his land from Reynolds.
A few weeks after we met with Parks, he and his daughter and their family trust all sued Reynolds, a company Reynolds controls that is listed as the owner of land on Hamilton-Mason Road near Maud Hughes Road, and others.
The suit makes several allegations that are now included in the criminal case. The suit and now the Ohio Attorney General’s Office both accuse Reynolds in court records of corruptly trying to control development on Hamilton-Mason Road.
By the time the lawsuit was filed, Attorney General Dave Yost appointed a veteran special prosecutor, Brad Tammaro, who has been with his office more than three decades, to oversee what has quickly become a joint investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
At the time we did those stories last year, Reynolds denied all wrongdoing.
“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,” Reynolds said in a statement to FOX19 NOW on Sept. 30, when the lawsuit was filed.
Chad Ziepfel, Reynolds’ criminal attorney, has repeatedly said Reynolds never accepted or paid any bribes or used his position for improper benefits.
“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,” Ziepfel said in a statement last week to FOX19 NOW.
However, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to begin proceedings to suspend Reynolds from office.
“These crimes are a betrayal of public trust,” Yost said in a Feb. 9 tweet, the day Reynolds’ indictment was announced.
Reynolds’ alleged criminal conduct “without question” 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,” they wrote in court filings.
“The indictment alleges violations of the very laws that guard against the misuse of public office and authority for personal gain.”
In fact, the AG’s office wrote, 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.”
Specifically, the AG’s office alleges Reynolds committed bribery between November 2019 and on or about September 2021, writing in court records the elected official “approached a developer attempting to gain approval for a development project and offered to sell the development company his father’s land for $500,000, 2-3 acres of land valued at $21,000 by the Butler County Auditor’s Office, and requested the developer employ him as a consultant at a fee of $200,000 to guide the development project through local government requirements,” according to a Bill of Particulars in the case filed Tuesday by the special prosecutor.
Reynolds then allegedly used his office to influence a public contract, committing the second felony crime of unlawful interest in a public contract between April 2021 and August 2021, the court record states.
The filings go on to allege Reynolds influenced government officials to secure approval for public money by way of a Tax Increment Financing proposal from three governments (Butler County, West Chester and Liberty townships) for infrastructure and improvements to Hamilton-Mason Road that would benefit himself or a family member by providing public funds that would enhance the ability to develop property owned by his family.
Sheriff Richard Jones recently called Parks the alleged victim in this and said the investigation remains ongoing.
Recently, the visiting judge overseeing the civil lawsuit, Dennis Langer of Montgomery County, ruled it could proceed against most of the defendants including Reynolds and his company.
Reynolds’ lawyer has since requested a stay in the case on his behalf due to the criminal indictment. Parks’ lawyer has objected.
The sheriff and Yost have called for Reynolds to resign when he was indicted, but Reynolds is running for re-election.
He just filed his petitions last month to qualify for the May primary against challenger and fellow Republican Bruce Jones, the fiscal officer for West Chester Township (Bruce Jones is not related to Sheriff Jones).
Reynolds also continues to serve as the county auditor.
He was paid $106,498 last year and is expected to collect $108,362 this year, according to the Butler County Treasurer’s Office.
Reynolds has to pay his own criminal defense but county taxpayers shelled out the $100,000 insurance deductible to defend Reynolds in the civil lawsuit, according to Butler County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson.
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