Butler County taxpayers had to foot the $100,000 insurance deductible to defend the civil lawsuit against indicted Auditor Roger Reynolds, but won’t be on the hook for his criminal representation.
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. There are five charges, three are felonies and two are misdemeanors. The sheriff said he could face up to seven years in prison if he is found guilty.
He also has been fighting a civil lawsuit filed by an 88-year-old West Chester Twp. man that jump started the criminal investigation since September. That trial is set for June 2023.
Taxpayers had to pay the $100,000 deductible for the county’s insurance company to defend the civil lawsuit but will not shoulder the criminal legal fees, according to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson.
“Intentional acts which criminal cases have to be, are not something that we defend,” Ferguson said. “To the extent that there’s a civil suit incurred in the course and scope of his employment as the auditor the policy covers that.”
His attorney will also have to represent him in efforts to suspend him from office, which will take at least a month or two. Reynolds can be suspended under state rules and a panel of three retired judges will make the decision, unless he willingly surrendered his office.
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.”
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor must appoint what is called a 3.16 Special Commission, comprised of three retired judges, but can’t do so until two weeks after she receives the request from the attorney general.
That panel must decide “whether the public official’s administration of, or conduct in the performance of the duties of, the official’s office, as covered by the charges, adversely affects the functioning of that office or adversely affects the rights and interests of the public and, as a result, whether the public official should be suspended from office.”
During that two weeks, Reynolds can either agree to be suspended or give reasons why he shouldn’t be. Supreme Court documents indicate the entire suspension process takes one to two months. Reynolds will continue to receive his $108,662 throughout the legal process. If he is found guilty he must repay his salary.
Reynolds’ attorney Chad Ziepfel — who also represented former Ohio Rep. Pete Beck in his securities fraud case — told the Journal-News they will fight this all the way.
“We will be contesting the suspension,” Ziepfel said. “Not only are the allegations false, but they do not involve the Auditor’s Office or Mr. Reynolds’ work as the auditor. We hope that the community will not rush to judgment in this matter, and will wait for the full story to come out at trial.”
If he is suspended the Republican Party Central Committee will select an interim auditor. Reynolds is on the May primary ballot for re-election and West Chester Twp. Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones is challenging him.
Todd Hall, chairman of the county Republican Party, said the indictment, “certainly leaves a blight on the Auditor’s Office and perhaps Roger Reynolds needs to take his leave to protect the integrity of the office. Public trust is of utmost importance.”
When asked about appointing an interim auditor he said, “a suspension is a speculative question, and we prefer to let this process play out between the County Auditor and the Attorney General. If something does change, it will become a legal question and we will prepare an answer at that point.”
The auditor is the county’s chief financial officer and is responsible for keeping the books, valuing real estate and a host of other functions.
Sheriff Richard 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 and enlisted the aid of the attorney general and Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
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.
When asked if he will still run for re-election Reynolds told the Journal-News recently he will.
“It’s unfortunate that a local zoning dispute has risen to this level,” Reynolds said. “I look forward to answering the accusations and continuing as auditor. My team and I are doing tremendous work in the office and we’re not going to be distracted by petty politics.”