Butler County elected official accused of public corruption steps down

Butler County elected official accused of public corruption steps down
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 8:43 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2023 at 1:21 PM EST
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A longtime Butler County elected official facing seven public corruption charges abruptly stepped down Monday.

Madison Township Trustee Alan Daniel announced in a letter to the other two trustees he was retiring from office and vacating his position effective Monday, according to a copy released to FOX19 NOW by the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.

This comes just hours after Daniel and his lawyer were in court to plead out or receive a trial date. His lawyer was granted a request for a week’s delay, until Monday, Feb. 13.

Neither the state nor the defense is saying right now if a plea deal is imminent.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser, however, confirms Daniel’s letter was required to be provided to his office Monday, and Daniel and his lawyer complied with that.

“I expect there to be further proceedings a week from today on a final resolution of this case,” Gmoser tells FOX19 NOW.

Daniel did not respond to a request for comment.

When FOX19 NOW reached him Friday, he told us he didn’t know he had a court hearing coming up and needed to call his lawyer.

Court records, however, show that Daniel has admitted to at least one of the misdemeanor charges. He was indicted last fall on 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.

The 76-year-old pleaded not guilty during his first appearance last year before Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens.

Daniel, who was a Madison Township for nearly three decades, has remained free on his own recognizance since he was arraigned.

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

Alan Daniel was up for re-election in November so whoever the township appoints to replace him will run then for the position, Trustee Jeff Willoughby says.

The township has 30 days from the day Daniel steps down to replace him.

Since the trustee seat is a non-partisan position, the township trustees will name his replacement.

Daniel admitted to at least one charge in his indictment concerning an illegal vote that allowed a Dollar General store to emerge on land that he held the mortgage to at the time, prosecutors wrote in court filings last year.

Daniel’s son, Todd Daniel, also was the property’s owner, county records show.

“I really shouldn’t vote. I don’t vote on things that get me into trouble... and dumb, dumb me, voted,” Daniel told Butler County Sheriff’s Office Detective Daniel Turner in a June 10, 2021 phone call, according to a court document called “State’s Answer to Request for Discovery.”

Court records show Daniel also “self-reported” himself to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

His attorney filed a motion last year asking two of the charges be dismissed on a claim the statute of limitation has passed.

Prosecutors countered in their own court filings that elected officials in Ohio can be charged at any time during their tenure and up to two years after they leave office.

Daniel has been under criminal investigation since the summer of 2021 as both a township trustee and member of the Butler County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

He abruptly quit the BZA in October 2021 after residents filed a federal lawsuit and demanded Butler County Commissioners hold a hearing to consider asking for his resignation in light of allegations against him.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office began investigating in July 2021 after receiving an anonymous complaint and sent the case to the Ohio Ethics Commission for review.

The commission recently made a referral for criminal charges to the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.

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

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 taking action and/or voting as a township trustee for matters that benefited him personally and/or a member of his family, including raises for his son and signing his timesheet, FOX19 NOW has learned.

The fourth misdemeanor count is due to Daniel casting what two federal courts have since described as an “illegal” and “corrupt” vote on Feb. 16, 2021, as a member of the county’s BZA board.

The vote granted several variances to permit a Dollar General store at the corner of Keister and Middletown Germantown roads.

Alan Daniel held the mortgage to the property at the time and his son, Todd Daniel, also owned the land, county and federal records show.

Daniel was the second elected official in Butler County indicted on public corruption charges last year.

The county auditor, Roger Reynolds, 53, left office in late December just before he began serving his fifth term after he was convicted of a felony charge of unlawful interest in a public contract.

Reynolds, the county auditor since 2008, was accused by the state of using his public office for personal gain for himself and his family.

The jury deliberated for about eight hours on Dec. 21 before returning the guilty verdict and acquitting him on the remaining four charges, including bribery.

Prosecutors are now calling for jail time for Reynolds when he is sentenced next week, on Feb. 15.

Reynolds faces six to 18 months of incarceration and/or probation.

He also could be ordered to pay up to a $5,000 fine.

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 told FOX19 NOW in 2021.

The illegal vote that Alan Daniel cast resulted in a Dollar General store rising adjacent homes in the township has drawn the most attention.

On Nov 20, 2020, CD DG Germantown LLC contracted to build a Dollar General store on the property owned by Alan Daniel’s son, Todd Daniel, and entered a lease agreement to operate it, federal court records show.

The agreement included a liquidated damages provision requiring Germantown to pay $897.60 daily for each day after Jan. 13, 2022, that the property was not delivered to the tenant.

Germantown sought five variances from the BZA:

  • Reduction in parking spots
  • An allowance for no more than 10% of the parking to be in front of the store
  • Waiver of a setback requirement for the parking lot
  • Waiver of the setback requirement for the front of the store
  • Permission to erect a privacy fence in lieu of required landscaping.

On the night of the vote, Alan Daniel needed to participate to have a quorum, according to the written and audio minutes of the meeting.

Rather than recuse himself as prosecutors say he should have due to his obvious dual conflicts of interest, Daniel deliberated and then voted to pass the variances with the other two BZA members who were present, the meeting minutes state.

Madison Township residents who live near the store sued Butler County, the BZA, and Daniel in his official and personal capacities.

The developer intervened and ultimately prevailed, along with the county and BZA, which also opposed an injunction being granted, federal court records state.

The residents are still bitter over their lost court battle to try to overturn the vote, one that cost Karen and Bret Frank more than $4,000 in legal fees, according to invoices from their attorney.

They said the county and developer refused to give them any money to reimburse them for their expenses because the zoning process was legal.

They refuse to this day to shop at the store.

The Franks and their lawyer told FOX19 NOW last year they repeatedly contacted the prosecutor’s office and asked for the vote to be rescinded and re-held without Daniel due to his obvious conflict of interest.

They also tried to convince commissioners to do something they say, to no avail.

The zoning process for the store was legally handled according to the zoning laws, despite the “corrupt” process, two federal court decisions state, as well as the prosecutor’s office’s response to the lawsuit.

The couple told FOX19 now they learned the store was coming to their street in late March 2021, which is after the county’s 30-day appeal period had ended.

The county only mailed notices about the BZA vote to property owners who live within 200 feet, they say, so they didn’t receive one.

The residents officially dropped their lawsuit last fall, the same day Daniel was indicted.

They remain shocked now that the illegal vote Daniel cast that brought the store against their wishes only mustered a single misdemeanor charge.

Daniel’s indictment on the misdemeanor charge now, after they begged the county to take more immediate action sooner last year that may have blocked the store, is little solace.

The top two officials at the prosecutor’s office, Gmoser and Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson, chief of the civil division, and the county’s director of development, David Fehr “are no heroes to us,” Karen Frank told FOX19 NOW during a September 2022 interview at their home.

“They can talk a big game about how they got their man with Alan Daniel, but I really feel that he is the scapegoat for the county.”

The Frank family also wrote the judge in Daniel’s criminal case case a letter questioning “how it is that the same prosecutor’s office who provided counsel to the county offices will present the prosecution in his case? We would appreciate if you could provide a legal explanation of how this is not a conflict.”

Gmoser said in response Monday that the only charge to indict Daniel on for the zoning case is the misdemeanor he is charged with.

If the prosecutor’s office had intervened and reversed the BZA vote, which was determined to be legal by the federal court, the county would have been sued by the developer, he noted.

Gmoser said he agrees that the way the Dollar General deal was reached “stunk” but says the developer would have prevailed in a lawsuit, which would have subjected the county to liability.

He said there is no conflict for his office to prosecute Daniel because the prosecutor’s office represents bodies like the county commissioners and township trustees, not individuals.