Ohio AG, BCI join ‘criminal investigation’ into Butler County auditor, sheriff says

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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) – The Ohio State Law Enforcement Investigative Agency is joining the investigation into Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, said Friday the Sheriff Richard Jones.

“Since late August, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating (a) allegation of misconduct involving Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds regarding the development of property owned by his father Randall Reynolds. As this investigation expanded, the sheriff’s office consulted with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, ”Jones said in a statement.

“Subsequently, the Attorney General assigned investigators to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations to assist with this criminal investigation. Anyone with information regarding this investigation should contact Detective Ryan Hensley of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office: 513-785-1000. “

In a statement to FOX19 NOW, Attorney General Yost said, “Fortunately, local law enforcement rarely faces public corruption in Ohio. These cases can get very complicated and often require specialized expertise, which the Attorney General’s office can bring to the table. We will work closely with Sheriff Jones until this investigation is completed.

The Sheriff’s Office began investigating Reynolds after FOX19 NOW reported on August 28 that the county’s elected tax watchdog was seeking $ 1 million in public funds for road improvements to facilitate the sale of the property of his parents for development.

Reynolds sent out several emails requesting meetings with staff in Butler County and the townships of Liberty and West Chester to discuss securing tax increase funding (TIF) to improve Hamilton Mason Road.

Some emails were sent from his elected county office’s messaging system to County Administrator Judi Boyko and an official in the Butler County Engineer’s Office, as copies show. Other emails were sent from his personal account.

A series of emails, still on his county account, reveal that he requested a meeting with Boyko over TIF after responding to his message regarding unrelated county matters.

FOX19 NOW has contacted Reynolds, the county auditor since 2008, several times for comment on Friday, but has had no response.

We received an email from his county account on Wednesday when we asked for feedback on similar issues.

“We are still working on your requests. I hope to have an answer by the beginning of next week. Thank you for your patience, ”the email said.

On Friday morning, just after the Sheriff announced that BCI had joined the investigation, Butler County Assistant Auditor David Brown issued a press release stating: “Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds provides nearly $ 2.3 million in unspent real estate costs to local governments this year.

The money is redistributed to the local levy funds it comes from to help educate children, build roads, fund police and fire operations, and directly benefit local taxpayers, the statement said.

“This is an ongoing commitment from Reynolds since taking office in 2008,” the press release read. “The auditor’s office has now returned a total of $ 19.7 million in cost savings and over $ 1.9 million for the seventh time in eight years. “

Public money Reynolds is seeking will be used to fund road improvements needed by a proposed $ 20 million elderly community on land owned by his parents on the south side of Hamilton Mason Road, according to township and county records.

This property also sits directly across from the land he recently acquired from his parents near Maud Hughes Road, according to county land registers and state business records.

Sheriff Jones said detectives interviewed county officials and West Chester and Liberty Township administrators as potential witnesses.

The findings will be turned over to the Ohio Ethics Commission and the Butler County attorney’s office for review, according to the sheriff.

In an interview last month, Reynolds dismissed suggestions that his attempt to get public funding could pose a potential conflict of interest, saying, “I’m just helping my dad try to start reducing his assets to as they get older. “

He also said, “I didn’t see anything wrong with it at all. TIFs are used to make improvements to roads in order to continue certain developments in this area. “

It’s not his property, he stressed, claiming he has no financial benefit.

“It’s 100% my father’s land. “

We also contacted him for comment a few days later, after the sheriff told us the matter was under investigation.

At this point, Reynolds stood firm that there was no problem and stressed that he was within his rights as a “private citizen.”

“As I told you on Friday”, he declared on Monday August 30, “nothing happened in my office in connection with this project and because of it, as a citizen private, I am allowed to make requests to other offices, so nothing was wrong with what I did.

The Ohio Ethics Commission website states:

“Remember that public servants should NOT take action in matters that ultimately and directly affect them, their families or associates. “

It also specifies:

“When a person in the public service is faced with a conflict of interest, he or she should refrain completely from making decisions or influencing the way the matter is resolved. “

Under Ohio conflict of interest law, “use of authority” could include using your office to try to influence other office holders.

Penalties for violating ethics laws vary.

A “use of authority” finding is an offense punishable by a fine of up to $ 1,000 and / or up to six months in prison.

“I’m happy to see that the Sheriff’s Office and now the Attorney General are taking these allegations seriously,” said Chip Goff, attorney for longtime Hamilton Mason Road resident Gerald Parks.

He says they plan to sue Reynolds in a personal and professional capacity.

Parks, 87, her daughter and her lawyer all told FOX19 NOW that Reynolds offered to buy 15 acres of his land in 2015 for less than what Parks considered fair compared to current market value.

The property has since been valued at $ 2 million, according to Goff and Parks’ daughter.

The elderly resident was struggling with his wife’s diagnosis of terminal cancer at the time. He ultimately turned down Reynolds’ offer after his daughter said she found out about him and raised concerns.

Goff’s attorney provided us with the following statement from Parks’ daughter Tina Barlow:

“He took my father to Frisch for a coffee. Roger explained to him that he was aware of the development in the region and that it would be easy for him to pass it through the board of directors, as he knew all the players. At that time, one of the pain relievers my mom was taking cost almost $ 700. Roger told my dad that he knew my dad could use the money because of my mom’s medical bills and that he could use the money because Roger had kids to put into college. He continued to have discussions with my father wanting to buy this property, even going so far as to draw up a contract.

“Fortunately, I was at my parents’ house one evening when I heard my father talk about this contract. It was a call option, $ 9,000 less now, with $ 475,000 five years later. There is no doubt in my mind that Roger knew the property was worth more than this amount. When I showed my father the prices that the property had sold in the area and explained to him that he could not sell at that price, he said Roger told him that if he did not sell him not my father’s property would be landlocked, and he wouldn’t. I can’t sell it without Roger.

His daughter’s statement ends with: “Roger told you in his interview that he was just trying to help his father. I’m just trying to protect mine from Roger Reynolds.

Gerald Parks, 87, has long resided on Hamilton Mason Road and owns property on both sides of the road in West Chester and Liberty Townships. Parks and his attorney tell FOX19 NOW they believe the actions of Butler County auditor Roger Reynolds hampered Parks’ ability to sell his land for development after Parks turned down an offer from Reynolds for buy your property at a price well below fair market value.(FOX19 NOW)

“Based on Roger Reynolds’ comments to the Butler County and Liberty Township Planning and Zoning Boards,” Parks attorney said, “it is clear that he is trying to control development along Hamilton Mason Road in West Chester Township and Liberty Township for his and his father’s benefit.

“During the planning and zoning hearings, Roger Reynolds wrongly accused Mr. Parks, his developers and real estate agents of cutting up Mr. Parks’ property to develop a product with which neither Roger Reynolds nor neighboring landowners have no problem.

“Despite the approval of the latest development product, Mr. Reynolds opposed it. It is good if it takes 15 years to plan a development in this area; years that Mr. Parks does not have. In addition, there are no known contracts or interests for the development of land adjacent to Mr. Parks’ property; he is the only one interested in development.

“It is even more disheartening that the Township of Liberty and Zoning Commissioners and administrators accept Roger’s comments and ignore the developers. As of April 2021, the proposed development on Mr Parks’ property was aimed at a community of people aged 55 and over, the same as the community Roger advocates for his father directly across the street.

“A Township of Liberty Planning and Zoning Commissioner said Mr. Parks’ development” will not bring a better quality of people to our township. ” This is unacceptable and litigation is likely.

Liberty Township administrator Steve Schram responded to our request for comment.

“It’s very disappointing for me to see this whole problem unfold. Despite my personal feelings that Liberty Township has done absolutely nothing wrong, our attorney is rightly concerned about some of the implications of Mr. Parks ‘attorneys’ comments. I will honor his request not to make any additional comments at this time. It is not my style of “being quiet”, but my legal sense is limited to a few nights in a Holiday Inn Express.

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