Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds’ criminal trial will be after election

Reynolds was not in attendance for the hearing.

The criminal trial of Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds scheduled for later this month has been continued until December, well after the November general election.

The decision by Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan was made Wednesday at the request of the prosecution.

The hearing was the arraignment of Reynolds on a superseding indictment with an additional felony charge handed down last month by the Butler County grand jury. It stems from an investigation into whether Reynolds used his office for personal gain involving Lakota Local Schools and Four Bridges Country Club.

Reynolds was not in attendance for the hearing. He entered a written not guilty plea to the new charge of unlawful interest in public contract and waived his right to be present.

He is seeking re-election to the auditor post he’s held since his appointment in April 2008. He was elected to complete the full term as auditor in November 2008 and subsequently was re-elected to full, four-year terms in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Reynolds previously pleaded not guilty to the other five felony charges contained in a February indictment. He is free on his own recognizance.

Defense attorney Chad Ziepfel said Reynolds was in depositions Wednesday in the civil suit filed against him.

The superseding indictment added a fourth-degree felony to five other charges Reynolds is facing. A grand jury first indicted Reynolds on Feb. 9 on misdemeanor and felony charges, including bribery.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The new charge stems from actions in January 2017, according to court documents.

Reynolds’ trial was scheduled for Aug. 15.

Special Prosecutor Brad Tammaro of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said in the continuance motion he was in a trial in Lucas County, and while he is hopeful the case will conclude on July 29, “the litigation has rendered it impossible for the state to adequately prepare for the trial (in the Roger Reynolds case).”

Ziepfel did not respond to a request for comment about the trial continuance. The judge said during Wednesday’s hearing there was no objection to a continuance.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said the charge involves money Reynolds’ office routinely returns to taxing districts each year that are not needed to pay for his office’s services.

“It basically started with Roger Reynolds and a group of people approaching the Lakota Schools, one of their administrators, the people in charge of the money, and were basically talking about the money that they return to the schools,” Jones said. “He made a recommendation and tried to coerce them into taking the money they were going to receive and he tried to encourage them to build something for the Four Bridges golf course.”

He said the charge involves family members, and Reynolds as a member of the golf club, where he also lives.

In September 2017, Reynolds’ office returned $2 million to all taxing districts and $459,498 to Lakota. The fees are monies the auditor’s office receives from the state for calculating and distributing real estate taxes from levies to local governments. The auditor’s office doesn’t need all the fees to operate.

“I believe as Sheriff Jones had said there may have been an approach, but we did not do anything with it; we did not enter into any agreement,” said Lakota spokeswoman Betsy Fuller.

Reynolds initially was indicted for bribery and leveraging his public office to further his own interests. He now faces four felonies and two misdemeanors counts.

The bribery charge is a third-degree felony. It carries a potential sentence of nine months to three years and a fine up to $10,000. The other three felonies are fourth degree unlawful interest in a public contract. Those carry penalties of six to nine months.

Neither Reynolds nor his attorney would comment on the latest allegation, but have maintained his innocence from the beginning.

“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. Mr. Reynolds has served the Butler County community with honor for the past 19 years, without even a hint of impropriety,” a statement from Ziepfel reads.

Reynolds has maintained he is the victim of a political witch hunt by the state to punish him for challenging a state-mandated property value hike.

Jones’ office began investigating Reynolds last summer after receiving complaints about his development dealings and efforts to help his father.

The charges relate to Reynolds allegedly using his position to facilitate the sale of his father’s property in West Chester Twp.

Prosecutors allege the bribery crime happened Nov. 8, 2019, and on or about Sept. 17, 2021, when Reynolds, an 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 governmental requirements,” according to the bill of particulars filed.

A second felony charge of unlawful interest in a public contract is tied to events that allegedly happened between April 6, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2021, when Reynolds used his office to influence a public contract.

Specifically, Reynolds is accused of influencing governmental officials to secure approval of a Tax Increment Financing proposal to provide public funding from three government entities for infrastructure and improvements to Hamilton-Mason Road. Those would benefit himself or a member of his family by providing public funds that would enhance the ability to develop property owned by his family, according to court documents.

Staff Writer Denise Callahan contributed to this report.

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