Photo Caption: Sheriff Pat Kelly reacts to the 25-county criminal indictment handed down by a special grand jury Friday. He denies any wrongdoing.
Sheriff Pat Kelly has no intention of stepping down, despite having been served Friday with a 25-count criminal indictment - and despite the fact that some top members of his own Democratic political party are suggesting he should resign (see related story).
Based on the indictment from a special grand jury, Kelly is facing charges that include stealing money from the sale of county property; stealing from his own election campaign; lying under oath; tampering with evidence and government records; and, most seriously, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity (commonly known as racketeering).
But he remained defiant Friday when served with the indictment, which was handed down by a special grand jury after a state investigation of his office that had lasted some 16 months.
"I'm not stepping down; no plea bargain; no nothing," Kelly declared. "I will absolutely continue (as sheriff)."
That may not be up to him, however. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office handled the investigation, said at a news conference that he will forward Kelly's indictment - as he must do by state law - to the Ohio Supreme Court, to decide whether to suspend Kelly while his criminal case is pending. DeWine stressed that Kelly can fight any suspension decision.
"He is not removed automatically," DeWine said. "He is still sheriff at this moment."
Since it was seated near the middle of last year, the grand jury had met sporadically; Friday was its ninth day of listening to witnesses - of whom it heard more than 25, DeWine said. Finally, on Friday it came out with an indictment, which included:
• 13 counts of theft in office, three of them fourth-degree felonies, and 10 of them fifth-degree felonies;
• four counts of theft, a fifth-degree felony;
• one count of money laundering, a third-degree felony;
• one count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony;
• one count of tampering with records, a third-degree felony;
• one count of perjury, a third-degree felony;
• one count of failing to keep a cashbook, an unclassified felony;
• one count of obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor;
• one count of dereliction of duty; a second-degree misdemeanor; and
• one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony.
The last count, the most serious, carries a sentence of three to 11 years in prison; the others carry lesser potential sentences. According to DeWine, a second-degree felony carries a maximum penalty of eight years; a third-degree felony three years; a fourth-degree felony 18 months; and a fifth-degree felony one year. If Kelly were convicted of every charge, and got the maximum penalty on each, run consecutively - a set of huge assumptions - he would be facing more than 40 years in prison.
DeWine would not provide details on what exactly Kelly allegedly did to commit each offense. From the indictment, however, it's clear that the theft charges involved selling county property and keeping the money, misusing money from donors who contributed to his election campaign, and taking money improperly from his office's cashbox.
The records-tampering charge might seem at first glance to be connected to Kelly's alleged disposal of numerous county records at a local landfill. That first came to light in May of last year, however, while the indictment indicates that the alleged offense took place from July 1 to Sept. 30 of 2013.
It also appears from the indictment that the perjury charge does not stem from Kelly's very brief appearance before the grand jury in June. The indictment says the offense took place on or about Sept. 30 of last year.
Regarding the corrupt activity charge, the only first-degree felony in the bunch, DeWine said, "this is a public corruption case. This is a serious case. What we allege is a pattern, a long-standing pattern."
In a prepared statement, however, Kelly insisted, "I have not committed or attempted to commit a criminal act, nor have any of my employees."
He blamed the indictment on "the Attorney General's obsession with following a political agenda," which he said suggest the agency's "leadership is not up to the kind of honest investigation and oversight that would lead to a clear and just assessment of the facts presented."
Indeed, some of Kelly's supporters have noted that Attorney General DeWine is facing his own serious accusations of corruption, in connection with a story that appeared recently in the Dayton Daily News, and which has been circulating in other statewide news media. The story reported that large campaign donations from law firms influenced DeWine's office's decision to assign the firms state legal work or appoint them to the state commission that decides cases to pursue. DeWine has denied a cause-and-effect connection between the contributions and hiring or appointment decisions.)
In Sheriff Kelly's local case, asked directly whether he's saying DeWine was out to get him, Kelly was circumspect.
"I don't believe that Mike DeWine is," he said. Asked who, then, was behind the alleged political witch-hunt, Kelly replied, "If you've been as successful as my administration has been, you upset people."
He also hinted darkly that, "I think anybody in Athens County understands what this is all about." He added that he has been deluged with calls from supporters. Kelly's personal Facebook page also has filled up with statements of support.
DeWine, calling the indictment "a sad day" for Athens County and the state of Ohio, insisted that he has no grudge against the sheriff. He stressed that his agency was invited at the behest of Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn to investigate assault and other allegations against Kelly, because Blackburn had a conflict of interest as the sheriff's statutory legal counsel.
"This is not personal," DeWine said. "It is not personal between me and the sheriff. I barely know the sheriff."
He did acknowledge that the investigation expanded far beyond the original allegations his office was asked to look into.
Though the initial reason for the probe was the claim by an Albany man that Kelly had assaulted him, DeWine said, "Once we got into the case, it was evident that that there was a lot more than that… It started out as one thing, and then turned into many other things." (Ironically, no criminal charges resulted from the alleged assault.)
Though the indictment indicates that Kelly had help both in misappropriating money from the sale of county items, and in stealing from campaign donors, DeWine said the sheriff himself was the only person indicted by the grand jury. He stressed that just because a party is named in an indictment does not mean that party will face criminal charges.
"Frankly, we don't know if anyone else will be indicted," he said. "I can't say at this point."
DeWine said he didn't have Kelly arrested after the indictment was returned, because "I believe the only time someone should be arrested is if they are a threat to flee, or they are dangerous… I have no evidence of that, either one, so we did not ask for that."