Former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail and five years of community control for his conviction of a felony charge following a December jury trial.
The long-time auditor, who was re-elected last year while under indictment, was found guilty of unlawful interest in a public contract, a fourth-degree felony. He was found not guilty of three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge.
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
Because of conviction, Reynolds can no longer hold public office and may lose his CPA license as well, according to his attorneys.
Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan also ordered Reynolds to pay a $5,000 fine and be employed full-time or serve 100 hours of community service.
Hogan essentially stayed to jail sentencing, anticipating an appeal. He suggested Reynolds could serve portions of the time behind bars on weekends. Reynolds did go to the Butler County Jail after sentencing, where he was booked and had DNA samples taken, then he was released.
“We have five years to get it done, as far as I am concerned,” Hogan said.
Reynolds was found guilty of a suggested partnership between Lakota Local Schools and Four Bridges Golf Club to expand the indoor golf training facility for the Lakota teams and using his influence as auditor to push for a facility using tax money marked to be returned to the district.
Hogan told Reynolds during the sentencing hearing Friday he received many positive letters about him that spoke about “wonderful things” he accomplished, but “three or four letters painted a completely different picture.”
“I look at the seriousness of the conduct,” Hogan told Reynolds, saying he can find could find no real harm because there is no victim.
“Other than everybody in the county who trusted the auditor,” Hogan said. “You tell me you are remorseful, and I hope that is true.”
Hogan noted the offense is not nearly as serious as the other offenses of which he was found not guilty.
“It might be a completely different outcome today had you been convicted of one or more of those offenses,” the Judge said.
Hogan urged Reynolds to look up the word “hubris,” then noted several people testified they questioned the ethics and legality of the proposed deal, and told Reynolds.
“Look up the word hubris. This didn’t have to happen,” Hogan said to Reynolds.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hubris means “exaggerated pride or self-confidence.”
Before sentencing, Reynolds stepped to the podium in the center of the courtroom and spoke for more than 10 minutes. He was emotional at times, talking about his daughters who were seated in the first row.
He said, “I finally have a chance to speak.”
Reynolds said he was doing nothing nefarious, just trying to help the kids.
“I am here because I made mistakes,” and never meant to be dismissive, Reynolds said to Hogan. “I could have hit the pause button, and I did not,” he said, adding he should have sought a legal opinion about the idea he was proposing.
Reynolds’ voice broke as he spoke to the judge about his two daughters and the challenges of getting girls and minorities involved in golf.
“I was not in any way looking to benefit my children,” he said. He was already paying for his children to be a part of Four Bridges.
Special Prosecutor Brad Tammaro said during the sentencing hearing that Reynolds betrayed the public trust. He pointed to the crime not being committed by Reynolds as a private citizen, but as the county auditor.
“There was an off-ramp for the defendant” that he didn’t take, Tammaro said.
He told the judge Reynolds stubbornly refused to say his actions were inappropriate. He used his power as auditor for coercive effect to get the deal he proposed, Tammaro said.
Defense Attorney Chad Ziepfel told Hogan and the courtroom Reynolds gained nothing by the proposal and the school district did not enter into a contract.
Ziepfel said Reynolds consistently returned tax money and was re-elected while under indictment.
“All speaks to Mr. Reynolds being a good auditor and man,” he said in the courtroom.
Reynolds has been punished by losing his lifetime of public service and may lose his CPA license, the attorney said.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case along with the attorney general’s office.
“It’s sad that it has come to this, but justice was served,” Sheriff Richard Jones said in a press release after the sentencing
What happened during the December trial
In September 2017, Reynolds’ office returned $2 million to all taxing districts and $459,498 to Lakota Local Schools. The fees are monies the auditor’s office receives from the state for calculating and distributing real estate taxes from levies to local governments. If the auditor’s office doesn’t need all the fees to operate, they can be returned to the various entities.
Former Lakota treasurer Jenni Logan testified at trial that Reynolds proposed the Four Bridges funding “idea” to her during a meeting in December 2016. She and others from the district met with Reynolds at his office on High Street to discuss bond millage. When the meeting ended, he asked the others to leave the room.
Logan, who now works for the Butler County Educational Service Center, said Reynolds proposed $250,000 — or about half of the district’s refund money for the next three years — be used to build a year-round golf academy at Four Bridges for use by the Lakota golf teams.
Reynolds lives adjacent to the Four Bridges Golf Club, and the pro there coaches the Lakota girls golf team, where his daughter played at the time, according to trial testimony.
Logan talked to the district’s lawyers about the idea, and she was told it shouldn’t be pursued for various reasons, including using public money to build on private property.
Reynolds then proposed an option of letting Four Bridges build the facility and charging the district a yearly access fee of $250,000, according to testimony. Logan testified she told Reynolds the actions might be a conflict of interest, but she said he had a differing legal opinion differing opinion from the prosecutor’s office, the auditor’s office legal counsel. At trial both sides stipulated Reynolds never consulted the prosecutor’s office for a legal opinion.
Chad Ziepfel, Reynolds’ attorney filed motions for acquittal and a new trial in recent months, both were denied by Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan.
In a 21-page sentencing motion, Ziepfel concluded, “Mr. Reynolds advocated for a unique idea to invest in the younger generation and to encourage women golfers. In doing so, he made a mistake. Community control will allow Mr. Reynolds the opportunity to continue his service to the community and to repay his debt to society without the burden of incarceration costs.”
Reynolds was first appointed county auditor in 2008 and re-elected multiple times, most recently in 2022, Ziepfel noted. He is a lifelong resident of the county and the father of two daughters.
Ziepfel said Reynolds worked tirelessly to make the county auditor’s office a professional and efficient entity.
“Mr. Reynolds’ conviction in this case obviously runs counter to the lifetime of good works and strong values that led him to be a respected county-wide elected official,” Ziepfel said in the motion. “While Mr. Reynolds never set out to break the law or to further his own interests, he respects the jury’s verdict and regrets ever getting involved in the golf training facility discussions.”
The court record includes more that 30 letters have been written to the judge concerning sentencing. The vast majority are in support of Reynolds from friends, neighbors and family.
Tammarro pointed to Reynolds genuine lack of remorse, and the need for incarceration.
“Rather than express an understanding or the improper nature of his actions, Defendant Reynolds simply expresses a combative attitude refusing to accept or recognize the criminal nature of the very actions that led to his conviction,” Tammaro wrote in the sentencing motion.
Reynolds engaged in activity that “stained” the office of county auditor, Tammaro said.
“The facts disclose a situation where an entrenched powerful government official felt emboldened enough to try to take advantage of his position to promote a personal interest. Moreover, when his actions were questioned by the officials of the school district, the defendant attempted to justify his actions with a lie,” Tammaro said.
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