Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell has been released by the plaintiff from the civil corruption lawsuit involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds because he “is not the defendant to focus on.”
Farrell was ensnared in the lawsuit 88-year-old Gerald Parks filed against Reynolds a year ago, alleging the county’s top fiscal officer used his power to ruin a development deal, costing the man about $1.3 million.
He was dismissed from the lawsuit by Parks’ attorney Tuesday. Milton “Chip” Goff told the Journal-News “Tom was dismissed because he is not the Defendant to focus on at this time.”
Parks and his daughter sued Reynolds, Farrell, Liberty Twp. and Buck Rumpke, a member of the Butler County Planning and Zoning Commission last fall alleging bribery, ethics violations and interference in the development of a senior living community on land he owns in the township.
Goff said he is not dismissing Rumpke yet but would not say why. Rumpke’s attorneys have not responded to requests for comment.
Farrell released this statement:
“My dismissal from Gerald Parks’ lawsuit against Roger Reynolds confirms what I have said from the beginning: that I did not engage in any illegal or unethical behavior. The case was voluntarily dismissed after the facts came out. The dismissal was not a result of a settlement agreement, and I will not be paying any remuneration to plaintiffs,” he wrote.
The lawsuit called into question a $500 campaign contribution Reynolds made allegedly to secure Farrell’s vote denying a development deal for Parks’ property. The accusations about Farrell are not part of the criminal bribery case against Reynolds. His trial was supposed to start Aug. 15 but now has been pushed to Dec. 12. The civil case is set for trial next June.
“Throughout my nearly 20-year career in public service, I have prided myself on being honest, trustworthy and singularly-focused on serving the public,” Farrell said. “With this matter now resolved, I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Liberty Township.”
Parks’ attorney Milton S. Goff III did not respond to requests for comment about Farrell’s dismissal and it is unclear whether he will also dismiss Rumpke.
Liberty Twp. Trustee Steve Schramm said it is a shame Farrell was pulled into the litigation.
“The attorney for the Parks group never talked to any of us, so they didn’t talk to Tom, never talked to me, I don’t know how you can come up with a lawsuit when you don’t have the other side of the story, but politically that seems to be the common thing anymore...,” Schramm said. “I feel great for Tom, super honest guy, one of the best men I’ve dealt with and worked beside and I trust him implicitly on this,”
Schramm and retired Trustee Christine Matacic, who also voted to deny the senior living development, were not named in the lawsuit that is almost entirely focused on Reynolds.
Schramm told the Journal-News if anyone looked at the transcript from the meeting they would see he not Farrell did most of the talking during that meeting.
“All Tom did was shake his head yes during the whole time, I don’t get it, other than it was Tom’s (election) cycle so they could make a connection with a campaign donation and tried to use a pay-to-play argument,” Schramm said. “Which wouldn’t have stood up to the test of the statutorial law in the state of Ohio. They’ve already ruled ages ago that a campaign donation cannot be a pay-to-play.”
Attorney General Dave Yost’s office is handling the criminal case against Reynolds that now includes six charges, three felonies and three misdemeanors. Farrell was never implicated in the criminal charges.
Earlier this year the Journal-News asked Yost why campaign donations were part of this investigation, elected officials give cash to each other all the time for their campaigns, “the question is whether the donation is made to procure something, so if politician A gives to politician B because he believes in what politician B believes in then that’s perfectly fine and appropriate.”
The portion of the lawsuit that directly involved Farrell was a $1.35 million purchase offer by Lancaster Land LLP so Clover Group could build the 55+ senior community. The county planning commission gave conditional approval by a 3 to 2 vote to the plan in January 2021, but Rumpke voted no.
The Liberty Twp. plan commission heard the case at the end of January and Reynolds spoke in opposition to the development, citing greenspace and other concerns, according to the suit. It alleges Reynolds made a $500 contribution to Farrell’s reelection campaign March 4. The Liberty Plan Commission voted 4 to 1 against the project in April.
The trustees heard the Clover Development case in May — Rumpke allegedly voiced opposition at that meeting — and denied it. The lawsuit alleged Reynolds “secured a thing of value” with Farrell’s vote to deny, because it would help push through a similar development on property his parents’ own across the street in West Chester Twp.
Both Farrell and Reynolds’ defenses in the civil lawsuit are being paid by the taxpayers. Township Administrator Kristen Bitonte said defending Farrell and the township has cost a total of $67,906, the township’s insurance company has paid $36,349 and the township has picked up $31,557 to-date.
“It’s being covered through the township,” Schramm said. “Which is equally bad because the taxpayers get to pay for something that was frivolous. There was no meat on this bone from day one.”
County Administrator Judi Boyko said the county has paid $34,904 through June 30 for the Parks litigation, it doesn’t include all the depositions that have been taken since. The county has a $100,000 deductible then insurance will cover the litigation costs. Reynolds has to pay his own legal bills in the criminal case.
Part of the entire complicated case the Butler County Sheriff’s Office began investigating last year also involves Reynolds asking the county commissioners and trustees from West Chester and Liberty townships to provide $1.1 million in tax increment financing dollars for roadwork that is required for the Red Oaks senior living development planned for Reynolds’ dad’s property along Hamilton Mason Road.
The sheriff’s report singled out text messages about the TIF with Schramm. It states when detectives spoke with him “he stated he advised Roger Reynolds that he felt they were close to crossing a line ‘politically’ that he was not comfortable with.”
The sheriff’s investigation report also referenced a $1,000 donation Reynolds allegedly offered to make to West Chester Trustee Mark Welch’s re-election campaign. It indicates the two men discussed the TIF proposal. It said the donation was never made.
Welch told the Journal-News he received a $500 donation well after the trustees approved zoning for the Red Oaks development plan — a project that has gone nowhere.
Welch told the Journal-News “it was a real stretch” to accuse Farrell of wrongdoing, “I think those kinds of accusations are baseless, I know Tom’s character and he’s a very good, honest, ethical person and he’s a good trustee up there.”