Butler County Democratic leader: Middletown candidate should exit race

A Middletown City Council candidate should drop out of the race because of his federal felony conviction in 2010, the Butler County Democratic Party chairman said in a statement Monday night.

Party Chairman Brian Hester said John P. Hart II, 59, was convicted in Cincinnati for failing to collect and pay employment taxes of his employees. Hart was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, placed on three years supervised release and ordered to make restitution of $679,633, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Hart is one of six candidates seeking two open seats on Middletown City Council in the Nov. 5 general election. He owns Selection.com and is a co-owner of Start Aviation and Start Skydiving, based at Middletown Regional Airport.

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Hart, in an interview before Hester’s comments were made public, told this news outlet he moved to Middletown in January and just renovated a house on Wilbraham Road.

As for his eligibility to hold public office despite his federal conviction, Hart told this news outlet his attorney said the prohibition applies if he had been convicted in an Ohio court.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Hart spent two years taking money collected for his employee’s contributions to Social Security and Medicare and spent it on “funding his skydiving team’s attendance at skydiving competitions, funding other skydiving organizations, and paying for his annual membership and expenses at a local country club.”

Hester said Hart’s felony conviction will likely bar him from public office.

He said Hart filed to change his voter registration from Hamilton County to the city of Middletown and filed a petition to run as a candidate for city council.

Hester said Section 2961.02 of the Ohio Revised Code states that a person convicted of a federal felony that involves “fraud, deceit, or theft” “is incompetent to hold a public office.” However, Ohio law does not prohibit someone who is ineligible to serve a public office under this provision from being a candidate for such an office.

“Clearly, the kind of self-dealing deceitful acts Mr. Hart admitted to and was convicted of in federal court bar him from holding public office in the city of Middletown under Ohio law,” Hester said. “The voters of Middletown deserve to know that their votes for candidates will matter, and the people they elect can legally serve.

“I hope Mr. Hart considers the needless voter confusion his prior conviction is creating and the costly litigation that would inevitably occur if he were to win and does the right thing and drops out of the race immediately,” Hester said.

Attempts to reach Hart for comment on the statements Hester made Monday night were unsuccessful.

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