Butler County elected official indicted on 7 public corruption charges

Butler County elected official indicted on 7 public corruption-related charges
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 9:35 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 5:15 AM EDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A Butler County grand jury indicted a longtime elected official Wednesday on seven public corruption charges.

Alan Daniel, a Madison Township trustee for nearly 30 years, is facing three felony counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract and four misdemeanor charges of using or authorizing the use of the authority or influence of office to secure anything of value, court records show.

The 76-year-old has been under criminal investigation for more than a year as both a township trustee and member of the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office launched the probe in July 2021 after the agency received an anonymous complaint about “corruption” related to Daniel, according to a copy of an incident report.

The case was ultimately referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission, which made a referral just days ago to the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office for criminal charges.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser immediately took it to a grand jury and personally presented it, along with Assistant Prosecutor Garrett Baker, who handles corruption and scam cases.

Gmoser and Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones released Daniel’s indictment Wednesday morning with a joint statement that read in part:

“Holding a public elected office is a public trust and is enforceable by criminal sanctions for violations of such trust. The public has a right to expect all elected public office holders to hold office for the public benefit and not for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of their family members.”

All of the charges occurred from December 2016 through February 2021, according to Daniel’s indictment.

All except one of the misdemeanors relate to Daniel voting as a township trustee for matters that benefited him personally and/or a member of his family, including raises specifically for his son, Todd Daniel, the township’s road superintendent for more than 20 years, according to the sheriff and township and county records.

FOX19 NOW reported last year that Daniel cast what two federal courts have since described as an “illegal” and “corrupt” vote as a member of the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals on Feb. 16, 2021.

That vote was related to his son as well.

Daniel approved zoning variances for land owned by Todd Daniel at the corner of Keister and Middletown German roads in Madison Township so it could be developed into a Dollar General store, county zoning records and the BZA meeting minutes show.

At the time of the vote, Alan Daniel had an additional personal interest and benefit: He held the mortgage to his son’s property, which also he used to co-own with his son, according to records at the Butler County’s recorder and auditor offices.

Daniel has repeatedly declined comment at various times over the past year as FOX19 NOW reached out for his side of the story amid the investigation.

He most recently declined to talk to us when the township’s audit came out over the summer and we told him the auditor referred multiple votes he cast in 2018 and 2018 to the Ohio Ethics Commission for further review.

When FOX19 NOW reached Daniel on his cell phone Wednesday morning after he was indicted and asked if he could comment, he responded: “No, probably not.”

He asked us what we were talking about so we repeated that he was indicted and read him the charges.

“I haven’t seen it yet. That’s the reason I’m asking questions,” he said.

He didn’t know he was indicted until FOX19 NOW contacted him? “That’s exactly right,” he told us.

Daniel declined further comment and also declined to refer us to an attorney on his behalf.

He was not physically arrested. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office served him with a summons Wednesday afternoon.

The summons requires him to appear for his arraignment at 8:30 a.m. Monday before Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Stephens.

Daniel will be officially booked on the charges at that time. He will be required to submit a DNA sample since he is charged with felony crimes. He also will be fingerprinted and photographed.

If Daniel is found guilty on all counts and sentenced concurrently, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison, according to the prosecutor.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office turned the information over to the Ohio Ethics Commission fairly quickly after they began investigating Daniel last summer, FOX19 NOW has learned.

More recently, in July, State Auditor Keith Faber referred several votes to the Ohio Ethics Commission for review that Daniel cast as a trustee in 2018 and 2019. Faber said the votes directly impacted a family member and were related to the township’s road department.

Daniel voted on 20 road department ordinances in 2018 and 15 in 2019 “from which he should have abstained because he is the father of Road Supervisor Todd Daniel,” Faber recently wrote Madison Township officials.

The auditor also referred 26 votes to the ethics commission for further review from 2018 and 2019 by former trustee Thomas Hall, whose father is the fire chief, state records show. Faber recommended Hall abstain from voting on issues impacting the fire department in general.

Hall, who now is a state representative, recently told us he followed legal advice passed down by the township administrator and was careful to not vote on raises or other issues that directly impacted his dad.

Sheriff Jones said Wednesday his office is continuing to investigate votes by both Daniel and Hall, among issues in Madison Township.

“There’s been complaints made about the state auditor’s office pertaining to Al Daniel and a past trustee as far as irregularities into votes on ordinances pertaining to family members. We have been in contact with the Ethics Commission,” Jones tells FOX19 NOW.

“Al Daniel gets his day in court. I feel sorry for all the people of Madison Township who have to live and put up with these types of actions by the trustees and past trustees,” the sheriff said. “This is what happens when everybody’s family members all work at the same place and they are elected.”

This is the second elected official in Butler County indicted on public corruption charges this year.

The county auditor, Roger Reynolds, faces six public corruption charges now related to his position. He was indicted on five charges in February and re-indicted with a sixth charge being added in July.

He also faces a civil suit that has several similar allegations to the criminal case, court records show.

Authorities began investigating Reynolds in late August 2021 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 between Maud Hughes and Cincinnati Dayton roads as he facilitated the sale of his parents’ property into a $20 million senior residential complex.

He emailed and/or met with county and township officials in both Liberty and West Chester to promote the detailed proposal, according to copies of emails and interviews we did last year.

A company of which Reynolds is the agent, Liberty Way Farms, also owns property along the road in that area, according to county and state records.

Reynolds’ criminal case also involves the Ohio Ethics Commission. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted sheriff’s officials.

Butler County’s prosecutor filed a court motion in September 2021 requesting Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and any of his assistant attorney generals be appointed special prosecutors.

Yost assigned a veteran special prosecutor to oversee the case and prosecute Reynolds, the county auditor since 2008.

Reynolds, 52, has pleaded not guilty and his attorney has repeatedly said all allegations against him are false.

He continues to work in his elected position and receives his annual salary, which the county treasurer says will be $108,362 this year.

A special commission appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court declined to suspend him from his job at Yost’s request earlier this year.

Reynolds was unopposed in the May primary and received the endorsement of the Butler County Republican Party in April despite the corruption charges.

Reynolds will face Democratic challenger Mike Dalesandro in the November election.

Daniel was elected a Madison Township trustee in 1995 and won his seat every four years since, according to the Butler County Board of Elections. Before that, he also served on a school board, his son has told FOX19 NOW.

Madison Township’s former administrator, Todd Farler, told us in a recent interview that Daniel repeatedly ignored his advice, based on the township’s legal counsel, to abstain from voting on matters related to his son.

“I can’t stop him from doing it. He chose to do what he wanted to do. He would do whatever he wanted to do,” Farler said of Daniel.

The Ohio Ethics Commission provided Daniel with a legal opinion dated Sept. 27, 2006, addressing just this issue - and it was at his request.

FOX19 NOW obtained a copy of it from the Ethics Commission through a public records request.

The commission wrote Daniel in part: “You stated that your son is the road superintendent for the township and has been employed by the township for fourteen years. You indicated that there are four employees on the road crew, including your son. You further stated that you have been under the impression that you could not vote on any pay raise if your son’s pay would be affected.

“You explained that you recently abstained from voting on a motion for a three-percent pay raise for all road workers, including your son. The motion did not pass. You further explained that your son was then excluded from the motion for the pay raise and you voted on the motion and the motion passed. You asked if the Ethics Law and related statutes prohibit you, in the future, from voting on an across-the-board wage increase for all road workers in the township because your son is the road superintendent.”

The commission provided Daniel with the following brief answer:

“.....the Ethics Law and related statutes do not prohibit you from voting on another trustee’s motion for an across-the-board salary increase for the road crew, as long as the increase is not established on a basis other than membership in the class of employees, will not affect your son’s employment in a differential manner than other members of the class, and does not secure, renew, modify, or renegotiate the terms of your son’s individual employment relationship with the township.”

Farler was the township administrator for 13 years before his contract was not renewed at the end of 2020.

He said he believes he raised too many concerns about potential illegal and ethical violations by Daniel and Brian McGuire, the other township trustee at the time who is still in office today, and the fiscal officer, Amy Schenck.

Farler said he contacted the state auditor’s office and Ohio Ethics Commission in early 2019 and asked them both to intervene.

“That’s when I figured I would become a whistleblower and the board would not renew my contract,” he told FOX19 NOW Wednesday.

Farler’s contract was not renewed when it expired on Dec. 31, 2020. He tells FOX19 NOW he was put on administrative leave in October 2020 via a note left on his desk.

He thought at first it was a prank but then said he realized he was being pushed out because he was a whistleblower.

McGuire declined to comment Wednesday.

The state auditor issued a finding for recovery against Schenck over the summer to recoup fees charged for late tax filings and bill payments, state records show.

Schenck, the fiscal officer for more than 20 years, repaid $24,395 in fees and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service for late filings and $749 in late fees and interest charges for credit card and utility payments, according to the state auditor’s office.

Farler now works as chief of staff for a business in the private sector.

“I greatly enjoyed working in Madison and for the residents of Madison Township. I just wish they had better elected officials that were looking out for the residents instead of themselves,” Farler told FOX19 NOW.

Trustee President Jeff Willoughby holds the seat Hall used to have.

“Township officials are elected by the residents to provide services as defined in the Ohio Revised Code,” he told us when we contacted him for comment. “Those who hold the honor of these positions are accountable to the public and should perform the duties in a manner beyond reproach.”

Daniel was appointed to the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals, where he held a seat from July 1993 until he abruptly quit on Oct. 25, 2021.

His resignation came after Butler County officials scheduled a meeting to consider removing him from the BZA at the request of Madison Township residents who were upset over his vote for the Dollar General store.

“Mr. Daniel exploited his position and intentionally chose to participate in the zoning variance process with obvious knowledge of this conflict. His actions damaged the integrity of the process and the work content of the BZA,” one of the residents, Bret Frank, said when he appeared in person before Butler County Commissioners on Sept. 13, 2021.

Daniel and his son, 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 held the mortgage to the property because it was sold in October 2021, Todd Daniel told FOX19 NOW that month.

Todd Daniel declined at that time to elaborate on details of the sale: “I’m just glad it’s over.”

Denise Goll, chief deputy at the Butler County Recorder’s Office, told us in October 2021 that Todd Daniel sold the land for $250,000 and the new owner, CD DG Germantown LLC of Texas, took out a $1.49 million mortgage on it.

In his October 2021 BZA resignation letter to Assistant County Prosecutor Dan Ferguson, Daniel wrote that he was resigning “with regret.”

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Butler County for so many years,” his letter states. “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.”

That was little consolation for Frank and the other Madison Township residents who were upset over the land deal.

They filed a federal lawsuit, alleging county officials including the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office failed to take action when residents told them about it.

Their lawsuit named Butler County, its board of zoning appeals, and Daniel, both in his professional and personal capacities.

“Alan Daniel’s actions to approve the variance significantly increased the value of the properties by allowing these changes to permit the construction of a corporate retail store,” the complaint reads. “Thus benefiting him and his family.....Daniel.... stood to personally profit from the variances he voted to grant.”

The residents’ attorney, Matt Miller-Novak, told FOX19 NOW at the time: “When the process you offer is this corrupted, you didn’t offer a process at all.”

The residents lost all motions in their federal lawsuit and, more recently, an appeal.

Their objections to the new Dollar General store couldn’t stop the project despite Daniel’s “corrupt” behavior because the zoning laws were not violated, the courts determined.

The neighbors were not at the meeting when the “apparent illegal” vote was taken to object to it, although they were notified, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott wrote in her decision. They also did not timely file an appeal to Butler County Common Pleas Court.

“The actions of Alan Daniel and the Zoning Board to have allowed Daniel to vote in favor of the variances despite his conflict of interest are offensive. The citizens of Butler County, including plaintiffs, deserve better from their governmental representatives,” Dlott’s decision states.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, writing that “the corrupt manner in which the decision was made does not change this analysis.”

Gmoser told us Wednesday he wished he would have been at liberty at that time to disclose to the federal court the matter was already well under criminal investigation and he hoped it would result in appropriate action.

FOX19 NOW reached the residents’ attorney Wednesday to get their reaction to the indictment.

“My clients are fairly satisfied that the government is taking action to address the unethical behavior of Mr. Daniel,” Miller-Novak told us.

“When two federal courts come to the same conclusion, that Mr. Daniel acted in an unethical manner and violated Ohio law, this was the clear result. I don’t think they had a choice, quite frankly. You gotta prosecute the guy.”

The residents’ dropped their lawsuit Wednesday.

FOX19 NOW asked Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko and Butler County Commissioners if, in light of Daniel’s indictment, the county’s zoning dept and/or BZA changed any procedures to ensure staff is properly checking land records of the properties that come up for votes on the BZA and/or any other county boards? Doesn’t county staff review the landowners of properties as part of the process?

Boyko emailed us the following response:

“Applicants of zoning or building permit action are reviewed, and it is my understanding the application process requires an applicant to attest the information he or she is submitting is accurate and proper. David (Fehr, Butler County’s building and zoning administrator) is out of the office this week and can advise of best practices his department deploys.”

Todd Daniel did not respond to requests for comment for this story but he passionately defended his dad to FOX19 NOW in an interview on Oct. 8, 2021.

“He’s not some criminal. He cares about this community,” said his son, who has worked for Madison Township for nearly 30 years, including 23 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.

“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.”