Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds enters not guilty plea to new charge

Credit: Journal News

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Roger Reynolds arraignment

Credit: Journal News

Special prosecutor requests trial continuance no earlier than Oct. 31.

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who was indicted 13 day ago on another felony charge stemming from an investigation into whether he used his office for personal gain involving Lakota Local Schools and Four Bridges Country Club, has entered a written not guilty plea.

And he will apparently not be attending arraignment next week on the new charge of unlawful interest in a public contract, according to a motion filed Monday by defense attorney Chad Ziepfel.

The superseding indictment handed down July 13 by a grand jury added the additional 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.

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Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds (pictured) appeared for arraignment on criminal charges in front of visiting Judge Daniel Hogan in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds (pictured) appeared for arraignment on criminal charges in front of visiting Judge Daniel Hogan in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds (pictured) appeared for arraignment on criminal charges in front of visiting Judge Daniel Hogan in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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

Reynolds’ arraignment on the latest charge is scheduled for Aug. 3 before Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan.

Ziepfel filed a plea of not guilty on Reynolds’ behalf and a waiver, signed by Reynolds, for him to not appear in person at the arraignment.

“Reynolds also waives his right to be present at the arraignment on the superseding indictment. The state of Ohio has been consulted and does not object to the arraignment proceeding without Mr. Reynolds’ presence,” Ziepfel wrote.

Reynolds is free on his own recognizance on the original five charges.

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Reynolds’ trial is scheduled for Aug. 15, but that date is in doubt after the prosecution filed a motion Monday to continue the trial.

Special Prosecutor Brad Tammaro of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said in the continuance motion he is currently 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).”

Tammaro requested a new trial date of no earlier than Oct. 31.

“The additional time would also enable the state to timely provide a bill of particulars that addresses the court’s previous direction, the additional charge and discovery relating to the superseding indictment,” Tammaro said in the motion.

Ziepfel did not respond to request for comment about the trial continuance. The judge has not yet ruled on the request.

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Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan speaks during arraignment of Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan speaks during arraignment of Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan speaks during arraignment of Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds in Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Hamilton. Reynolds pleaded not guilty to all charges including bribery, two counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest. The charges stem from allegations that Reynolds used his public office to further his own interests. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said the new charge carries a possible 18-month prison term. 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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