Former sheriff gets 7 years in prison on theft, perjury, other charges

Former Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly during his sentencing Friday in Athens County Common Pleas Court.

Supporters of former Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly applauded him as he was led handcuffed from the courtroom after being sentenced to seven years in prison on 18 felony counts early Friday afternoon.

"We're proud of you, bud!" one yelled out to him.

On Feb. 12, Kelly, 64, of The Plains, was convicted on first-degree felony racketeering, 12 counts of theft in office, three counts of theft, one count of perjury, and one count of failure to maintain a cashbook.

The theft charges related to his selling county property to McKee's Scrapyard and pocketing the proceeds, taking cash from campaign donations, and illegally purchasing meals for himself with Furtherance of Justice (FOJ) funds.

Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove merged various counts and sentenced Kelly to one year in prison for the theft charges related to the McKee's sales and FOJ meals, a second consecutive year for charges related to the theft of campaign donations, two more consecutive years for perjury, and three more consecutive years for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, also known as racketeering.

Combined, Kelly was sentenced to seven years in prison. Cosgrove said the sentence not only reflected punishment for Kelly but also a deterrent to others.

"The court finds you have shown not one shred of remorse for your conduct between 2008 and 2013," Cosgrove told Kelly, who was seen nodding.

Cosgrove did not, during the proceeding, mention any possibility for early release, and under Ohio Revised Code, because Kelly's felony crimes took place while he was employed as a public official, he will not be eligible for it.

Cosgrove took her sharpest aim at Kelly as she sentenced him for the perjury charge, noting that throughout the case she found him in contempt of court on three separate occasions. That included an occasion that led to his perjury charge and conviction, when Judge Cosgrove asked Kelly under oath if he had provided all the documents related to confidential informants in his possession, he said yes, and investigators later found additional documents on his home computer. 

"In the court's opinion, you continue to deny, deny, deny and lie and lie and lie," Cosgrove told Kelly.

Cosgrove ordered that Kelly pay restitution for the McKee's sales out of his pension fund in the amount of $2,936. Cosgrove said that Kelly's campaign account is defunct, noting that more than $2,000 in campaign money theft restitution would not be ordered because there is nobody to pay back.

While Kelly will still receive the amount he contributed to his pension minus the costs of restitution, he will not receive the employer contribution, Cosgrove ordered. 

Kelly, who wore a suit from Men's Warehouse he admitted during trial testimony he had paid for with FOJ money and later reimbursed, delivered a statement to Judge Cosgrove prior to his sentencing.

In a voice that sounded worn but not shaky, Kelly noted that he had been elected twice "overwhelmingly," and, taking on the prosecution's closing argument line that "the truth never changes," Kelly maintained that the truth in his case had been repressed.

"My life and the life of my family and friends was put under a microscope," he said, repeating a theme of his defense. Playing on another theme, that a political vendetta had been waged against him, Kelly accused unnamed officials of using their power to destroy others.

"The prosecution did not prove guilt, they just convinced a jury of my guilt," he said. "I disagree. The truth does change. And the truth is on my side."

Kelly also claimed that local lawyer Susan Gwinn, a former Athens County Democratic Party chair, approached him at one point and told him that if he resigned, the investigations into him would stop.

Assistant Attorney General Melissa Schiffel, who co-prosecuted the case, categorically denied this.

"No such offer was ever made," she said, calling it "another lie the defendant wants this community to believe."

Prior to sentencing, Schiffel asked for "substantial incarceration" and told Cosgrove that the state disagreed vehemently with a presentencing investigation report that recommended community-control probation for Kelly and no prison time.

"The defendant caused serious financial harm," Schiffel said, further noting that Kelly had "shown no genuine remorse."

She said that Kelly had argued on the stand in his own defense that he was the victim of a political vendetta, and it was an argument the jury didn't believe.

Assistant AG Bill Schenck told Cosgrove before sentencing that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine asked him to specifically convey to the court that the case against Kelly was not politically motivated.

"This case has not been political, vindictive, or based on anger or retaliation," Schenck said.

Defense attorney Scott P. Wood, of Lancaster, said that sentencing should not be about setting an example but about the individual.

"If you look at Pat Kelly as a man, you see no prior criminal record, you see a family man, a good husband, a good father… a man who has served in the military… and an effective sheriff who has curbed the local drug problem." (Kelly does have a misdemeanor conviction for failure to cooperate with a special prosecutor's investigation, dating back to 1999.)

Wood also noted the presentence investigation found a total amount of possible restitution of less than $6,800.

Judge Cosgrove appeared unconvinced that this was not a significant amount of money, pointing to Kelly's own testimony that the Sheriff's Office and Athens County had financial difficulty in affording police cruisers.

She even pointed to the state of the courtroom itself, the chairs and gallery benches, in declaring that Athens County needs every penny it can get.

"The court believes that all along the defendant has seen himself as a victim and has not taken into account what he has done to the citizens of Athens County," Cosgrove said, adding that he had "torn apart" the community.

Defense counsel asked that Kelly's sentence be stayed pending his appeal, which Wood confirmed would be filed within 30 days.

Cosgrove denied the motion, and said Kelly's prison sentence will commence immediately.

Now that he has been sentenced, Kelly will be transported to the Correctional Retention Center in Orient, Ohio, where mental health, education, medical and unit staff will evaluate him. He will be issued a security-level classification based on variables such as his age and offenses. He will then be assigned a "parent institution."

A sizable group of supporters (about 30) came out for the former sheriff, and most of them applauded in apparent support of him as he was led from the courtroom after his sentencing. However, there was no pro-Kelly demonstration outside the courthouse, as had been mentioned as a possibility.

The status of Kelly's Ohio Police Officer Training Academy certification, his concealed carry weapons permit, and his ability to own a gun was not discussed during Friday's proceeding. The prosecution did say that Kelly had refused to relinquish his badge, although defense counsel argued Kelly was unable to return Athens County property such as his badge due to his incarceration in the regional jail.

Originally indicted on 25 charges, Kelly was found not guilty on seven charges including allegations he stole from the Sheriff's Office cashbox, illegally "pushed through" concealed-carry permits without fees or background checks, laundered campaign money, and tampered with records and evidence during an investigation into his activities by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

Acting Sheriff Rodney Smith was named and sworn in for the second time by the Athens County Commissioners following Kelly's conviction in February. The Athens County Democratic Party Central Committee is slated to meet Wednesday, March 25, to confirm Smith again as interim sheriff.

Smith was first selected by the commissioners and confirmed by the committee late last March after Kelly was suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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