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Sheriff’s office asks Butler County auditor not to destroy records amid criminal probe

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds(Provided)
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 3:10 PM EDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The Butler County Sheriff’s Office has asked Auditor Roger Reynolds and his staff to retain any records that may be useful to an ongoing criminal investigation related to him and to not destroy any, FOX19 NOW has learned.

The requests were made in a letter from Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer to Reynolds and in an email from Dwyer to Dawn Mills, chief deputy at the Butler County Auditor’s Office, according to copies we obtained from the auditor’s office through a public records request.

“As you are aware, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation into proposed developments along Hamilton Mason Road near Maud Hughes Road,” reads the Oct. 6 letter to Reynolds.

“Based on this investigation, we believe that documents exist within the Auditor’s Office that would be relevant to the investigation. As such, we would request your immediate action to preserve electronically stored information that may contain evidence germane to our investigation. This request includes, but is not limited to, e-mail and other electronic communications; electronically stored documents, records, images, graphics, recordings, deleted files, cache files, and other data. Further, this request applies to archives, backup and disaster recovery tapes, discs, drives and other data.

“Knowing the Auditor’s Office maintains a record retention schedule, we would also request that you refrain from destroying any documents that may be applicable to this investigation regardless of any retention schedule.”

The sheriff’s office began investigating Reynolds after FOX19 NOW reported Aug. 28 county emails showed he was seeking $1 million in public funds for road improvements on Hamilton Mason Road in both West Chester and Liberty townships.

It comes as Reynolds facilitates the sale of his parent’s property for a proposed $20 million senior living development on Hamilton Mason Road in West Chester.

Reynolds sent emails requesting meetings with staff at Butler County and Liberty and West Chester townships to discuss tax increment financing (TIF) for Hamilton Mason Road, according to copies of emails FOX19 obtained from all three government agencies.

Some emails were sent from his county elected office email system to County Administrator Judi Boyko and a manager at the Butler County Engineer’s Office, according to copies provided to FOX19 NOW via public records requests. Other emails, to township officials, were sent from his personal account.

One string of emails, again on Reynolds’s elected county office account, show he requested a meeting with Boyko about the TIF after responding to her message involving unrelated county business.

The road improvements are needed as a condition of a $20 million residential development proposed for his parent’s property proceeding.

A veteran special prosecutor, Brad Tommaro, recently was appointed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, to oversee the investigation and has met in person for several hours at least once with investigators, according to Sheriff Richard Jones.

FOX19 NOW reached out to Reynolds for comment Tuesday by phone and text messages and received the following text back: “We are cooperating fully with the sheriff’s department.”

An Oct. 5 email from Dwyer to the chief deputy at the Butler County Auditor’s Office questions why at least one record related to the investigation was not turned over when a detective requested such records.

“I was briefed on Detective Hensley’s public records request and your response. Your response stated “We found no records related to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for road improvements along Hamilton Mason Rd.” I’ve included with this email an attachment that appears to come from reynoldsr@butlercountyohio.org dated 8/11/2021 and titled “Hamilton Mason TIF request packet”. That email, as well as others, would appear to be responsive to Detective Hensley’s request, but were not provided. Could you please clarify your position on his request?” Dwyer wrote.

“I also wanted to clarify some information to assist in locating additional documents. Through our investigation we believe former auditor employee, Katie Evers, sent several emails that would be responsive to Detective Hensley’s request and would possibly be titled “Rogers driveway”. Also, other relevant documents were being stored in a shared file folder titled “driveway”, and were also not provided. If this request should be sent to the BCCIS staff, please let me know. If the documents are otherwise located we would request that they also be sent to Detective Hensley rhensley@butlersheriff.org.

“Additionally, we would request your immediate action to preserve electronically stored information that may contain evidence important to our investigation of the Hamilton Mason Road development as outlined in the body of Detective Hensley’s original public records request, and that has yet to be discovered or identified,” Dwyer wrote.

“This request includes, but is not limited to, e-mail and other electronic communications; electronically stored documents, records, images, graphics, recordings, deleted files, cache files, and other data. Further, this request applies to archives, backup and disaster recovery tapes, discs, drives, and other data. You’ve previously referred to the auditor’s records retention schedule and we would ask that you refrain from destroying any documents that may be applicable to this investigation regardless of a retention schedule.”

The sheriff’s office declined Tuesday to discuss the case or their communications with Reynolds and his staff.

“The email speaks for itself and we obviously can’t comment due to the ongoing investigation,” Dwyer said.

“We don’t have any comment on BCI’s ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for BCI, Steven Irwin, wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW.

In an Aug. 27 interview with FOX19 NOW, Reynolds dismissed suggestions that his attempts to secure public funding could pose a potential conflict of interest as the county auditor, saying: “I am just helping my dad trying to start to downsize his assets as they get older.”

He also said: “I didn’t see anything wrong with it at all. TIFs are used to make road improvements to further some of the development in this area.”

It’s not his property, he stressed, saying he has no financial benefit: “It’s 100% my dad’s land.”

Reynolds listed his father, who is in his 80s, as one of his creditors over $1,000 on his latest financial disclosure report, which was filed in May of this year with the Ohio Ethics Commission, a copy of it shows.

His dad’s land also is directly across the street on Hamilton Mason Road from property he recently acquired from his parents, county property records and state business filings show.

Reynolds’s Liberty Way Farms Inc. bought about 26 acres on the road in December from Hamilton Mason Properties LLC, according to county property records.

Hamilton Mason Properties LLC is owned by his parents, according to a quit claim deed filed at the Butler County Recorder’s Office.

When FOX19 now informed Reynolds the sheriff’s office was investigating, he remained firm there was no issue and stressed he was within his rights as a “private citizen.”

“Just like I told you on Friday,” he said on Monday, Aug. 30, “it was nothing that took place within my office related to this project and because of that, as of private citizen I am allowed to make requests of other offices. So nothing was wrong with what I did.”

We asked Reynolds at that time if he sought an advisory opinion with the Ohio Ethics Commission or Butler County Prosecutor’s Office.

He responded:

“As long as I didn’t do anything within my own office there isn’t an issue with me working as a private citizen and making requests of other offices. That’s what I did. Non-story.”

Last month, an 87-year-old man who has lived next door to Reynolds’ parents for decades sued Reynolds; Liberty Township Trustee Tom Farrell; Bernard “Buck” Rumpke, a member of the Butler County Board of Planning and Zoning Commission; Liberty Township Board of Trustees and Reynolds’ Liberty Way Farms.

The lawsuit accuses Reynolds and Farrell of alleged bribery, tortious interference and ethics law violations related to Gerald Parks’ land development contracts.

Parks claims he’s lost contracts to sell his property due to their “tortious interference with him and his business dealings,” resulting in a loss of at least $1.3 million after turning down an “undervalued” offer from Reynolds to buy some of his land in 2015.

Parks owns land on both sides of Hamilton Mason Road in West Chester and Liberty townships.

Reynolds also is accused of alleged extortion, according to the lawsuit, and Rumpke is accused of an alleged ethics law violation as well as tortious interference.

Reynolds, Farrell and Rumpke are named in both their professional and personal capacities.

Reynolds issued a statement to FOX19 NOW at the time the lawsuit was filed that dismissed Parks’ allegations as “absurd.”

Farrell initially laughed when FOX19 NOW told him he was named in a lawsuit and informed him of the allegations. He later issued a statement saying:

“Lawsuits are one of the risks of being an elected official, as it is often times the last resort for those who fails to meet our zoning standards.

“I have spent my entire life building a reputation of honesty and fairness, I have heard zoning cases for almost 20 years, I have always, and will always, listen to both sides and follow the rules and regulations set forth by the ORC, our zoning, and our comprehensive vision plan. Please do not let questionably timed false accusations against me affect a reputation that took a lifetime to build. The township is filing a motion to dismiss, and I am confident that these false allegations will be dismissed and my reputation for honesty and fairness supported.”

Rumpke has declined to comment on the litigation.

The lawsuit accuses Reynolds attempted to take advantage of Parks’ wife’s illness (she had terminal cancer at the time and later died) by expressing that he was aware of Parks’ financial condition because of it and “he just wanted to help by purchasing the Property.

“In October 2015, Roger Reynolds made Mr. Parks an undervalued offer via what was titled an option contract for the purchase price of $475,000 and a down payment of $9,000,” court documents state.

The lawsuit alleges Reynolds told Parks to sell his property to Reynolds or “be land-locked and Roger Reynolds would see to is that any proposed development of the Property would never get through planning and zoning.”

Court documents go on to allege Reynolds promised public money via the TIF to pay for improvements to Hamilton Mason Road, a requirement for that development. So the developer, who had told Parks’ attorney he wanted to buy some of his land for the senior living development - a contract value that could have been as much as $1.5 million - instead bought Reynolds’ parents’ land.

Other allegations in the suit, according to court records:

  • Reynolds “demanded” $500,000 from one of Parks’ developers to purchase two acres of Reynolds’ father’s land. The developer considered buying the additional acreage to add to Parks’ property for senior housing development.
  • Reynolds “incorrectly” told one developer he needed more green space. He also said he would use his clout to fight the proposed development if they didn’t buy his dad’s land.
  • The developer met later that same day with Farrell who allegedly told the developer he needed “more green space,” the same comment Reynolds made earlier that same day. That developer then told Parks’ attorney he “didn’t want to be involved with the project that Roger Reynolds was interfering with” and terminated the contract they entered into with Parks.
  • Reynolds sought a $200,000 consulting fee from one of the developers for Parks’ land to get the project through the zoning process.
  • “As retribution for refusing to sell his property” to Reynolds, in 2017, “Reynolds, in his position as the Butler County Auditor, revoked Parks’ CAUV (Current Agricultural Use Value) property tax designation and increased the taxable value of Mr. Parks property.” A $30,000 charge was levied against Parks on his first tax bill of 2018, the amount of tax savings that he had accumulated for the three previous years with the CAUV designation. Parks also had a higher annual property tax rate from that point on.

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