Butler Co. Auditor Roger Reynolds indicted on bribery, corruption charges

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds. STAFF FILE PHOTO

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Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Attorney says Reynolds has never committed crimes

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds was indicted Wednesday on bribery and corruption charges related to his alleged use of his position to facilitate the sale of his father’s property in West Chester Twp.

A grand jury returned five indictments for bribery and leveraging his public office to further his own interests. Three are felonies and two are misdemeanors.

The bribery charge is a third degree felony. It carries a potential 9 months to 3 years sentence and a fine up to $10,000. The other two felonies are fourth degree for unlawful interest in a public contract. Those carry penalties of 6 to 9 months.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said in a news conference on Wednesday if Reynolds is found guilty on all counts, the maximum penalty would be seven years in prison. He said the investigation is ongoing and he believes Reynolds should resign.

“The law is the law, and the law says he gets his day in court and he can fight that, but the process has started to temporarily suspend him from office,” Jones said. “I have my opinion, and I think he should resign immediately.”

Reynolds’ attorney issued a statement late Wednesday.

“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,” the statement reads.

“He is proud of reforming the Auditor’s office, restoring trust with the citizens, and fighting for fair property valuations. Mr. Reynolds will vigorously defend himself against these charges, and looks forward to continuing in public service for years to come.”

Will Rogers be suspended?

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Office announced they will be sending a copy of the indictment to the Ohio Supreme Court “to initiate suspension proceedings against a public official who has been charged with a felony in a state or federal court when the felony relates to the performance of the official’s duties.”

Jones said they began hearing complaints about Reynolds about seven months ago and began investigating in earnest when a story about 88-year-old Gerald Parks came out. They began interviewing Reynolds’ staff, other elected officials, about 30 people or more.

The crux of the case: Reynolds allegedly has been trying to help his dad sell 25 acres along Hamilton Mason Road between Mauds Hughes and Cincinnati Dayton roads for a 122-unit senior living development called Red Oaks. It has received zoning approval from the West Chester trustees, but a major road improvement is one of the conditions for it moving forward.

He allegedly tried to get TIF funds and other accommodations to facilitate the development and tried to tank similar proposals for Parks’ property across the street.

Parks sued Reynolds, Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell and Liberty Twp. last fall alleging bribery, ethics violations and interference in the development on land he owns in Liberty Twp. He also named former township trustee candidate Buck Rumpke in the suit.

The bulk of the lawsuit concerns Parks’ business dealings with Reynolds — that allegedly caused Parks to lose out on several potential $1 million-plus sales — but he is also accused of making a $500 campaign contribution to Farrell in exchange for voting against a development on Parks’ land.

During the Wednesday press conference, Jones was asked, “are any of these charges related to other elected officials?”

“Not at this time,” he responded.

That admission appears to clear Farrell of the campaign contribution bribery allegations in the civil suit. Farrell said he can’t comment.

Reynolds sought TIF support

In trying to help get his dad’s deal done, according to email records obtained by the Journal-News, Reynolds asked the county commissioners and trustees from West Chester and Liberty townships to provide tax increment financing dollars for the $1.1 million road improvement. Some of Reynolds’ emails were sent from his county work email account that identifies his elected position, and he sent others from his personal email account.

ExploreCase involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds goes to trial in June 2023

One email from county Water and Sewer Director Martha Shelby to county Administrator Judi Boyko says that Reynolds contacted her and said the developer was concerned about $862,512 in water capacity fees so he wanted to explore special capacity fees for “developments targeting” older residents.

Jones said he couldn’t discuss how much of the civil suit is intertwined with the rest of the allegations. The attorney general’s office is handling the case, and Press Secretary Steve Irwin said they do not comment on indictments.

Jones said the investigation is ongoing, including some allegations involving Reynolds moving dirt from Liberty Center to property he and his family own.

“This is an ongoing investigation; this is not complete, we’ve looked at lots of things,” Jones said. “We looked at a little bit of everything and we’re going to be talking to people again. There was deal Mr. Reynolds was involved in involving dirt. You might think dirt, what’s dirt, it’s close to $1.5 million worth of dirt and where the dirt was moved to.”

Officials react

Other elected officials have weighed in on the indictments. Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News, “if these charges are true, it’s corruption at it’s worst, and it’s disgusting.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said “it’s not good news when a public official is indicted for a crime, but our justice provides for innocence until proven guilty.”

Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix, who considered running against Reynolds in the May primary election, told the Journal-News, “we knew this could happen, and I still think we let it play out, because there’s not a lot we can do at this point.”

West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones is running against Reynolds in May and has called for him to resign.

“The news of Roger Reynolds’ multiple indictments is most unfortunate, and it’s most unfortunate for Butler County and begs the question why would our fiscal watchdog need a watchdog,” Jones said. “We are to the point where it’s in the best interest of Butler County Mr. Reynolds resign as auditor and withdraw his candidacy for re-election.”

Jones noted this is not the first time a Butler County elected official has been indicted. Reynolds got in office in 2008 after former county auditor Kay Rogers was indicted in the Dynus scandal that started 18 years ago. She, former Butler County Commissioner Michael Fox and others went to federal prison.

“They’re all serious, and if you’re in office, it’s even more egregious,” Jones said of the charges against Reynolds. “It’s embarrassing, this isn’t the first time Butler County has had office holders get indicted or go to prison.”

Reynolds is scheduled to be arraigned in Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Jennifer McElfresh’s court at 1 p.m. Feb. 17. It is expected all seven judges will recuse themselves after the arraignment as they did in the civil lawsuit.

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