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

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds. STAFF FILE PHOTO

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Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Plaintiff claims he lost millions in potential sales because of business dealings with Reynolds

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds is set to face a jury in 18 months when he will defend himself against bribery, ethics violations and interference charges in a civil lawsuit filed by a West Chester Twp. man.

Gerald Parks and his daughter 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. Former township trustee candidate Buck Rumpke was also named in the suit.

All seven Butler County Common Pleas Court judges recused themselves, so visiting Judge Dennis J. Langer is presiding over the case. He has set a June 5, 2023 jury trial date but did not indicate how many days it could last.

ExploreJudge rules bribery lawsuit against Liberty Twp. trustee will proceed

The bulk of the lawsuit concerns Parks’ business dealings with Reynolds — that allegedly cost 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. Farrell and the township filed a motion to dismiss in October and Langer ruled last week the township has sovereign immunity and released it from the litigation. Farrell is still on the hook.

“This court is not persuaded that plaintiff’s ethics claim rests upon an unsupported bribery allegation,” Langer wrote in the 38-page order that also nullified other arguments to toss the case.

Farrell told the Journal-News he is meeting with the township’s attorney next week to discuss an appeal. He said lawsuits “are one of the risks of being an elected official as it is oftentimes the last resort for those who fail to meet our zoning standards.”

The suit accuses the three men of conspiring to cost Parks 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.

The suit also accused Reynolds of trying to strongarm Parks — while his wife was very ill — into selling 15 acres also on Hamilton-Mason Road. The suit alleges he told Parks he wanted to help him out.

Then Parks claims Reynolds gave him an ultimatum: “Sell the property to Roger Reynolds, or be landlocked and Roger Reynolds would see to it that any proposed development of property would never get though planning and zoning,” the lawsuit says.

Parks also claims Reynolds used his office to punish Parks for not selling by removing the agricultural designation causing the taxable land value to jump.

Reynolds said he had multiple conversations with Parks to purchase the land. There was no pressuring, and he offered the purchase as an option contract because there were several elements and approvals needed to develop the land, he said.

“I understand why he is upset. His deal didn’t go through and there are some financial difficulties,” Reynolds said

Reynolds is also under a criminal investigation into whether he has done anything wrong in trying to get $1 million in public funds for mandated road improvements so his father’s West Chester Twp. property can be developed into a senior living community.

Attorney General Dave Yost has assigned investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to the case. The situation has also been referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission, but that entity cannot comment.

“We’re still working on it, we’re working with BCI and their agents, coordinating efforts there and speaking on a regular basis with the special prosecutor and taking his advise,” Butler County Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said last week.

Steve Irwin, Yost’s press secretary, said the investigation is ongoing.

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