No new corruption trial for former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds: judge
HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - The judge who oversaw the public corruption trial of former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds rejected his request for a new one Friday.
Visiting Judge Daniel T. Hogan wrote in his five-page order there are “no grounds proven to support” throwing out his felony conviction.
Reynolds’ attorney accused prosecutors of failing to turn over “exculpatory evidence” that would have been favorable to Reynolds’ defense and changed the guilty verdict, court records show.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office disputed that in their own court filings, contending the defense’s entire stance was “based on egregious errors of fact and law.”
The judge’s order Friday now clears the way for Reyolds, 53, of Liberty Township, to be sentenced.
Judge Hogan delayed his original Feb. 15 sentencing date until March 31 in light of his new trial request.
Reynolds’ attorney, Chad Ziepfel, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Reynolds was forced to step down in late December, just before his fifth term began, after a Butler County jury convicted him of one count of unlawful interest in a public contract.
The jury acquitted Reynolds of three other felony charges including bribery and one misdemeanor charge.
Prosecutors announced earlier this year they are seeking jail time for Reynolds.
He faces six to 18 months of incarceration and up to a $5,000 fine.
The judge also has the option to just put him on probation.
“Delayed justice is like no justice at all. It’s time for Roger Reynolds to pay for the crime that he has been convicted of,” Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones told FOX19 NOW Friday.
“Hopefully he will receive jail time and this will send a message to elected officials that are in these positions not to ever abuse their power again and destroy the trust of the people who put them in office.”
Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix is now the auditor.
The Butler County GOP recently selected her to replace Reyolds.
She must run for the seat next year in both the primary and general elections.
Reynolds’ conviction is related to a proposed partnership he suggested to Lakota’s then-treasurer Jennifer Logan between the school district and Four Bridges Golf Club in Liberty Township to build a golf training academy at Four Bridges, according to court records and Lakota emails and text messages.
Logan testified during the trial that Reynolds proposed the “idea” to her during a meeting in December 2016 and she felt compelled to listen to him because of his position as the county auditor.
Reynolds is a longtime resident at Four Bridges and his home is next to the golf course.
He also was a member of the golf club at the time he proposed this, according to the sheriff. And, one of his daughters was a member of the Lakota East High School girls’ golf team, court records show.
Reynolds suggested Lakota school district use public money ($750,000 over three years) from state funds his office returns to them and others in the county annually to build the golf academy for use by Lakota golf teams, Special Prosecutor Brad Tammaro with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office wrote in the state’s sentencing memo.
Logan and others from the school district met with Reynolds at his office on High Street to discuss bond millage. When the meeting ended, he asked the others to leave the room and spoke with Logan alone, court records show.
Logan testified that members of the school district privately did not support the academy but publicly avoided expressing their lack of support because they didn’t want to upset the county auditor.
Lakota’s lawyers advised Logan against the plan for various reasons, including rules about using public money to build on private property, school district emails show.
Reynolds then proposed letting Four Bridges build the facility and charging the district a yearly access fee of $250,000, court records state.
Those “schemes” were rejected, so then Reynolds proposed the auditor’s office keep $250,000 of fee money to be refunded to the school district for each year for three years, the special prosecutor wrote in the sentencing memo. Then the auditor’s office would funnel the $750,000 dollars to the private golf course to build the golf facility.
Reynolds’ lawyer alleges the state withheld thousands of records that “directly contradicts and impeaches the key testimony” of Logan.
He wrote in court filings the state “suppressed” four emails including one written by Gene Powell, Four Bridges golf pro and Lakota East’s girls’ golf coach at the time, to owners of Four Bridges, Doug Herald and Graham Parlin.
Powell’s email would have “drastically changed the defense’s trial strategy and ultimately the jury verdict” on Reynolds’ conviction, according to court records filed with his motion for a new trial.
The Attorney General’s Office has conceded they didn’t turn over the emails but noted in court they were not required to because the defense already received audio recordings with the same information from witnesses interviewed by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.
Reynolds’ overall argument “is riddled” with misrepresentations regarding the discovery and evidence presented in the case, prosecutors say.
“This suggests that the Defendant merely regrets his trial strategy and is seeking a ‘second bite at the apple,” they wrote in their response to his request for a new trial.
Reynolds’ argued the emails were not the same as an audio-recorded statement. Had the state turned them over, it would have changed how he defended Reynolds. That violated Reynolds’ rights to a fair trial, he told the judge, who ultimately disagreed and sided with prosecutors:
“The 11/30/16 email contains no evidence material to the issues of this case,” Judge Hogan wrote in the conclusion of his order. “The 4/26/17 email contains information that was provided to the Defendant in the 5/10/22 Powell audio. The information not provided in the audio is not material. Accordingly, there are no Brady violations and no grounds proven to support a New Trial... The Motion for New Trial is Denied.”
Lakota ultimately never agreed to enter into the proposed partnership for the golf academy, so the school board never voted on Reynolds’ suggestion, a school district spokeswoman told FOX19 NOW earlier this month.
Powell, who no longer is a golf coach for Lakota East, recently wrote a letter to Judge Hogan in support of Reynolds as the judge considered sentencing.
“When I heard the testimony that Lakota was only entertaining this project to appease Mr. Reynolds, I was disgusted,” Powell’s letter reads. “Every person in the meetings I attended, showed excitement and contributed through their suggestions to make the project better for Lakota students. At no point did anyone say this was not a good idea. At no point did they even seem disinterested in the project. Therefore, they either lied during the trial or lied to me during the meetings. Either way, I’m disgusted.”
A district spokeswoman has said Lakota will always listen to potential opportunities that may be a benefit to our students but the district would not act on a partnership until it was fully vetted, which may include consulting with their attorneys.
“While school employees may meet with businesses to explore potential partnerships that would benefit our students, no school employee has the authority to commit to any agreement,” Betsy Fuller told FOX19 NOW on Feb. 3.
“The superintendent and/or treasurer would take any such recommendations to the Board for approval. This did not happen.”
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