Fox pleads guilty to federal fraud charges, faces 4 years in prison

CINCINNATI — Former Butler County commissioner and state legislator Michael A. Fox has agreed to serve up to four years in prison as part of a plea bargain in his federal corruption case.

Fox, 62, who was indicted in October 2009, won’t be fined as part of the deal, but it could be months before U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith decides whether to accept the terms.

Standing at the courtroom podium Wednesday and flanked by his two attorneys, Fox somberly uttered the word “guilty” twice when asked how he pleaded to the charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and filing a false tax return.

After the nearly two-hour change-of-plea hearing, Fox’s attorney, Ralph Kohnen, said the fraud was related to not reporting income on his taxes.

“Mr. Fox is not pleading guilty to accepting bribes or kickbacks, or to depriving the people of Butler County of his honest services as a public official,” Kohnen said. “Any other accusations ... will remain unproven.”

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However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Barry said she saw the agreement as an admission of “public corruption.”

“His plea today is the culmination of public corruption and fraud surrounding Butler County fiber optics network project,” she said. “(It’s) truly justice for the citizens of Butler County.”

Fox was indicted for improperly benefiting from a $2.75 million contract with the fiber optics firm NORMAP — owned by co-defendant and friend Robert Schuler — to build the county’s fiber optics network.

Schuler pleaded guilty Wednesday to filing a false tax return and faces 12 to 18 months of house arrest and a $50,000 fine.

Fox served as a representative in the Ohio State Legislature for more than two decades, and nearly a decade on the Butler County commission before serving as director of the county’s Children Services through 2009.

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