Butler County auditor to court: Throw out ‘contrived’ corruption charges
HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - Now that a special commission appointed by Ohio Supreme Court determined Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds should not be suspended from office amid his criminal case, he wants it thrown out altogether.
Reynolds, Butler County’s chief financial officer since 2008 was indicted earlier this year on five charges including bribery for allegedly using his elected position for personal gain.
He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on his own recognizance.
Reynolds alleges the criminal case against him is the state’s punishment because he is challenging a mandated property value increase.
Now his lawyer argues in a motion to dismiss, the indictment as detailed in a court record filed by the state that outlines specific allegations - called the bill of particulars - lacks the essential elements accounting for the charges and fails to comply with state and federal laws.
The filing says the charges came “after a very public and politically-motivated investigation.”
It was conducted by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“Immediately after these contrived charges were filed, the Ohio Attorney General and Butler County Sheriff began making public pleas for Mr. Reynolds to simply resign from his elected position, without ever receiving a hearing or even viewing the evidence against him,” the motion reads.
When Mr. Reynolds refused to “acquiesce to their coup,” they sought to remove him from office using a process that allows the attorney general to ask the Ohio Supreme Court justice to begin suspension proceedings which a former justice “has described as a sham proceeding reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.”
And then on March 15, the motion notes, a special commission comprised of three retired judges appointed by Justice Maureen O’Connor ruled in Reynolds’ favor, “refusing to remove him from his duly-elected office.”
“The Special Commission finds that Mr. Reynolds’ actions, as set forth in the charges, are not sufficiently related to the performance and duties of his office so as to warrant suspension,” the panel’s decision states.
“There is an insufficient nexus between the alleged acts in the Attorney General’s request for suspension and the functionality of the Butler County Auditor’s office. The Special Commission determines that Mr. Reynolds’ continued administration of and conduct in his public office, as covered by the charges pending against him, does not adversely affect the functioning of his office and the rights and interests of the public. Accordingly, Mr. Reynolds shall not be suspended from public office.”
Reynolds’ attorney, Chad Ziepfel, and a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Steve Irwin, declined to comment Friday.
FOX19 NOW has a request for comment out to the sheriff’s office and will update this story once we hear back.
Read the full motion below:
A piece of evidence Reynolds’ attorney submitted to the special commission, a recorded phone call between Reynolds and a developer that is part of the state’s corruption case against Reynolds actually undermines it and “makes “it clear their evidence is incorrect,” his attorney contended in his written argument to the panel last month.
The panel reviewed the recording and other records as they decided whether to suspend Reynolds.
“We are pleased that the State’s attempt to use false and legally insufficient criminal allegations to remove Auditor Reynolds from his duly-elected position has failed,” Reynolds’ attorney said in a statement last month.
“Not only are the charges against Mr. Reynolds false, but as the Special Commission recognized, the allegations do not involve the Auditor’s office or Mr. Reynolds’ work as the Auditor. Auditor Reynolds is focused on his commitment to providing quality services and his continued fight to keep spending and taxes low for the taxpayers of Butler County. We again ask that the community not rush to judgment in this matter, and we look forward to proving Mr. Reynolds’ innocence at the upcoming trial.”
Irwin has said the AG’s office believes the panel made the wrong decision but they “respect it. When the full case is presented to the jury, the defendant’s misconduct in office will be obvious.”
As part of the case, Reynolds is accused of soliciting a $200,000 consulting fee from two developers in exchange for his political influence to guide a development proposal through the approval process, one that would benefit his family.
The developers, Brian Jiminez and Tim Haid, gave detectives with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office handwritten notes from two phone calls and a third call with Reynolds that was recorded, court records show.
Reynolds and Jimenez discussed Gerald Parks, according to a recording of the call.
Parks, 88, has been trying to develop his land on Hamilton-Mason Road in Liberty Township. He has lived for decades next door to Reynolds’ parents, on the other side of the road in West Chester Township.
His lawsuit, which has similarities to the criminal case, accuses Reynolds of using his elected position to retaliate against Parks by raising his property taxes and blocking the development of his land. Parks declined Reynolds’ 2015 offer to buy his land below market value, the suit contends.
Reynolds has rebutted the allegation in Parks’ lawsuit, telling FOX19 NOW a brief statement last fall: “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.”
Now Reynolds’ encounters with the developers are part of both the criminal and civil cases.
When his attorney obtained the recorded call as part of discovery in the criminal case, Ziepfel spoke with both developers, he wrote the special commission as he provided the tape to them in a supplement.
The developers explained the consulting fee and how it was discussed in all three conversations related to sewer access - and nothing else, Ziepfel wrote.
“Having now reviewed the recording,” he wrote, “it is clear that the State’s evidence is incorrect. There was absolutely no discussion of a bribe payment or any $200,000 “consulting fee” during the call.
“It was a perfectly professional call, with much discussion about the fact that the sewer access in the area was controlled by Mr. Reynolds and his father. Because this recording completely undermines the State’s theory of prosecution in this case, Mr. Reynolds hereby submits the recording as a supplement to his Opposition to Temporary Suspension.”
FOX19 NOW listened to the call and examined the transcript of it. There is no mention of a $200,000 consulting fee.
Reynolds and the developer talked about getting sewer service in the area and getting the neighbors agreeable to new development, according to the call.
They also discussed working together to get the entire area along Hamilton-Mason Road redeveloped.
At one point, Reynolds referred to a previous conversation between the men, according to a recording of the call:
Reynolds: “So just curious -- I mean, I’m curious what you guys want to do. You mentioned you were going to talk to a couple of your partners and see, you know, if there’s a strategy there to work with us or-”
Jimenez: “We still have --”
Reynolds: “I’m curious where you’re at with that.”
Jimenez: “I think we have interest in the property, Parks.”
Jimenez: “And we could see 12 ourselves doing a development there. And then, you know -- so the answer is yes.”
Reyolds: “Okay. “
Jimenez: “Just have to -- "
Reynolds: “Yeah. Figure out somehow -- something to work together. You know, I put something -- I’ve thrown something out to you -- I don’t know, it’s been two or three months ago working with you and trying to help you get everything you need down there as far as support.”
Reynolds: “We’ve got to get sewers. We’ve got to get this project in across the street. So that would bring -- you know, that would allow for the sewers to come for anything in the front that you need.”
Reynolds: “And without a development, I mean, you can’t get -- we can’t run sewers unless we know what development we’re going to have because we wouldn’t necessarily know where to run our lines.”
Jimenez: “In terms of -- for the north side you’re saying? Yeah.”
Reynolds: “Yeah, for the north side to get the sewer on the front end of that parcel.”
Reynolds: “In the back, there is some sewer, but that’s not going to fit the overall density you need to make the numbers work.”
Reynolds: For really anyone 24 unless you put a three-story building in. And that’s not going to fly.”
He ended the conversation: “if you want to work together on it, let’s do it. If not, then that’s OK too.”
READ IT: Transcript of phone call
Reynolds is running for re-election and will face fellow Republican West Chester Township Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones in the May primary
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.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and Yost have called for Reynolds to resign.
The sheriff’s office is still investigating, interviewing people, “looking into a lot of issues and gathering documents,” Jones told FOX19 NOW last week, declining to elaborate.
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