A Dayton Daily News investigation revealed that some of the bad blood between the Rhoden family and the Wagner family in Pike County stemmed from a custody dispute. Six members of the Wagner have been in connection with the murders of the Rhoden family in 2016. Here, George Wagner IV pleaded not guilty to charges in a Pike County court on Wednesday, Nov. 28. PHOTO BY WCPO-TV

Best of 2018: 5 investigations that made a difference this year

Our reporters in 2018 exposed wrongdoing at the highest level of our institutions, from the legislature to the Catholic Church, and also showed the harm caused to our community and our citizens by individuals who violated our trust.

What emerges from reading through the list below is how many of these situations could have been prevented. It is our sincere hope that by shining a light on our problems we provide a framework for solving them.

Here are the top 10 investigative stories of the year.

Reporter Laura A. Bischoff in April revealed that the FBI was investigating Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. Rosenberger subsequently resigned.

Bischoff’s stories on Rosenberger showed that:

  • A representative of the payday lender Advance America made three international trips with Rosenberger and that payday lenders helped underwrite his visits to China, Normandy and London.
  • The FBI raided Rosenberger’s home and offices.
  • Advance America employed lobbyists to influence legislation, including House Bill 123, an industry-opposed payday lending reform measure that had been stalled for months in the Ohio House. After Rosenberger resigned, the bill was approved.
  • Bischoff also reported that Rosenberger received $43,000 in free travel in 2017 and that he owed money to a company controlled by wealthy GOP donor Virginia Ragan, who had allowed him to use a luxury condo she owned.

Rosenberger says his activities were ethical and lawful, and no charges have been filed.

Reporters Jeremy Kelley and Josh Sweigart were the first to report on data showing an unprecedented number of educators in recent years had their professional licenses permanently taken away for misconduct, including actions inside the classroom.

One elementary school teacher convicted of assaulting a 7-year-old boy, another teacher accused of improper contact with a high school student and a middle school athletic director who was convicted on a drug charge were among those whose licenses were revoked.

The story also raised questions about why some educators are allowed to remain in contact with students after complaints are filed against them.

Nearly 600 disciplinary actions were taken against education licenses in 2017, including 127 permanent revocations, the investigation found.

As abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania roiled the nation, the Journal-News analysis of records of the Cincinnati Archdiocese found it spent at least $17 million since 2003 on allegations against priests and efforts to protect children. Reporter Will Garbe found that in the last two fiscal years, the church spent nearly a half-million dollars on the allegations — including life-long counseling for around 20 victims — and child protection expenses. Since 1950, the cost is nearly $20 million.

Garbe’s reporting revealed that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has settled or litigated multiple sex abuse allegations since 2003, when then-Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk established a review board and $3 million compensation fund as part of a plea bargain with the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office. The agreement involved Pilarczyk pleading no contest on behalf of the archdiocese as an entity to five fourth-degree misdemeanor counts of failing to report felony sex crimes against children. No individuals were charged.

Documents obtained by the Journal-News show prosecutors believe a child custody fight may have role in the killings of a Pike County family on April 22, 2016, perhaps the biggest mass-murder in modern history in Ohio. Reporters Will Garbe and Swiegart used custody documents and other records to learn that a fight over over the 5-year-old daughter of victim, Hanna Rhoden, was at the heart of a fierce dispute that prosecutors believe escalated to murder.

Edward “Jake” Wagner, the child’s father, and Jake’s brother, George Wagner, are charged with eight counts of murder along with their father George “Billy” Wagner III and mother Angela Wagner. Billy’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, are charged with trying to cover up the crime. All have pleaded not guilty.

The reporters revealed that Jake Wagner filed for custody of his 5-year-old daughter Sophia just six days after the murders. In the custody documents Wagner indicated that his break-up with Hanna mirrored that of many other young couples. “In late March 2015, Hanna decided I worked too much and that I did not have enough time for her,” he wrote.

In addition to Hanna, the victims were her father, Chris Rhoden Sr.; mother Dana Manley Rhoden; brothers Chris Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; her uncle Kenneth Rhoden; cousin Gary Rhoden; and Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley.

An investigation by reporter Jeremy Kelley found wide disparities in the tax bills people pay in area communities. Those disparities — as much as $3,000 per year for similar middle-class households — are the result of many factors that are often misunderstood, Kelley’s reporting showed. Aside from the value of your property or the amount of money you earn, your bill depends on where you live, where you work and what school district you’re a part of.

In showing the reasons for the disparities, the newspaper sought to give voters information they can use the next time they are asked to approve a school levy or other tax measure. Kelley showed that a family that lives in a $100,000 home in one community but earns $50,000 from working in another can pay $5,250 in local income and property taxes. That same family earning the same income and living in a $100,000 home in a different location could pay as little as $2,120.

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