Photo Caption: Attorney General Mike DeWine holds a press conference to go over the indictment of Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly Friday.
A motion by the Ohio Attorney General's office, asking the state Supreme Court to remove Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly from office, includes details of exactly what Kelly allegedly did to earn indictment from a special grand jury Friday on 25 criminal counts.
The motion, filed by Assistant Attorney General James C. Roberts Tuesday, includes an affidavit by an agent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), laying out specifics of Kelly's alleged crimes - some of which, according to the document, were still being committed while he was already under investigation by the state.
The sheriff has categorically denied doing anything illegal. Shortly after being served with the indictment Friday, he told reporters that he runs "the most professional organization in the state of Ohio… If there was a problem with the sheriff, (my own officers) would have been the first to investigate me."
The allegations in the AG's legal filing include a number of alleged offenses by the sheriff of various types:
• Selling county property: Kelly is alleged to have sold numerous county items including vehicles and copper wire as scrap to McKee's salvage yard in Nelsonville, then pocketed the cash. More than $2,900 from this source is unaccounted for, the affidavit says. Items sold include a worn-out bread truck, the sale of which was the subject of an Athens NEWS story that ran in August 2013.
• Direct theft of agency cash: Kelly allegedly took more than $4,000 out of his office's cashbox between May 2009 and July 2011. BCI claims that records found in a search of Kelly's work computer show that the money "was allocated to Patrick Kelly by Patrick Kelly."
• Misuse of campaign funds: Kelly allegedly told the manager of his 2012 re-election campaign to pick up a $500 cash contribution from an unidentified donor for his campaign, then deposit the money into a personal bank account held by the campaign official and his wife. The man has allegedly told investigators that, on Kelly's instructions, he wrote a $500 check to Kelly's campaign, signing his wife's name to make it appear the donation was from her. While he was writing the check in Kelly's presence, the affidavit claims, the sheriff told him to make the check out, not to the sheriff's re-election campaign, but to Kelly himself. The money allegedly never showed up in Kelly's campaign finance reports.
In addition to that money, the affidavit alleges, more than $2,000 in cash "is unaccounted for related to campaign donations made to Patrick Kelly's 2008 campaign."
• Buying meals with public monies: Kelly allegedly spent more than $4,500 of public monies in restaurants. For more than $3,000 worth of these expenditures, he never got receipts, and never showed that they were justified expenses. For more than $1,500 he did get receipts, but didn't justify the spending.
In addition to this money, BCI claims, Kelly allegedly spent "thousands of additional public dollars on other meal expenditures that were documented, but some of which were personal expenditures."
The document cites a $54 meal receipt from an Athens restaurant, allegedly for lunch for employees after a parade March 27, 2011 - only there was no parade in Athens County on that date. Though the occasion of the meal was described as a "chiefs meeting" to discuss the sheriff's narcotics enforcement team, the date was a Sunday, numerous "kids' meals" were on the receipt, and the restaurant's law enforcement discount was not applied.
• Improper issuing of concealed-carry weapons permits: Kelly allegedly has, on one or more occasions, told his staff to issue CCW permits to an applicant without doing a background check as required by law.
• Evidence tampering: Kelly allegedly "altered and falsified" records that he turned over to investigators, to cover up theft of cash funds "purportedly used by (him) to pay confidential informants." These records were obtained by a subpoena, which Kelly tried unsuccessfully to contest.
At a hearing last September, the document says, Kelly attended a hearing before the appointed judge in the matter, and testified under oath. When the judge asked him whether he had turned over all the documents the state had asked for relating to confidential informants, Kelly said yes. This was a lie, the affidavit alleges, because when BCI searched Kelly's computer, it found a document he hadn't turned over.
IN SEEKING TO have the Ohio Supreme Court oust Kelly, the AG's office is invoking a state legal procedure to remove public officials charged with felonies, which rarely comes into play, and which was inspired by the case of Fairfield County Sheriff Gary DeMastry, who in 2001 was convicted of multiple offenses involving misspending and lying about it.
As reported in the Columbus Dispatch Monday, since the law went into effect a few other central Ohio sheriffs have faced charges of misusing public funds, but in some cases have stepped down before they were forced out, or have pleaded to misdemeanor charges and kept their jobs.
In 2011, the story notes, the Supreme Court did suspend Shelby County Sheriff Dean Kimpel after he was charged with sexually assaulting a deputy.
Roberts' motion argues that the charges Kelly is facing include multiple felonies "relating to (his) administration of, or conduct in the performance of, the duties of the office of Athens County Sheriff, which adversely affects the functioning of the office and the rights and interests of the public." Therefore, Roberts writes, the AG's office is asking the Supreme Court to commence the procedure to suspend Kelly while he's awaiting trial.
The motion noted that Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn asked the Ohio Attorney General in September 2012 to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against Kelly.
As reported in The Athens NEWS around that time, however, Blackburn had been in touch with the state long before this point, regarding questionable spending by the sheriff of public monies.
An email obtained from the Ohio Auditor's office in a public records request showed that in February 2012, Blackburn told an official in the agency that he had "become aware of at least one expenditure that I have concern about," made by Kelly from his "Furtherance of Justice" fund.
In this expenditure, later cited as improper in a state audit of Kelly's office, Kelly spent $600 from the fund on what the audit described as "suits, suit jackets and tailoring" for himself. After Blackburn raised his concerns to Kelly, the sheriff reimbursed the FOJ fund.
MEANWHILE, THE HEAD of a statewide sheriffs' organization said Tuesday that while the group is taking no public position on Kelly's case, it's certainly following it closely.
"We're well aware of it, and we're watching it with great interest," reported Robert A. Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association.
Asked whether the BSSA takes any position on whether a sheriff facing a 25-county felony indictment should step down, Cornwell said, "No, we do not. Because the sheriffs are individually elected by each county, and there are only four ways a sheriff can be removed" - namely Supreme Court suspension, resignation, retirement or death.
"We're going to let the criminal justice system take its course," he added.
Click here to download the motion in PDF form.