Athens County sheriff indicted

ATHENS – Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly was indicted Friday on 25 counts, including felony charges of theft in office, tampering with records, money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

There were 23 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges leveled at the sheriff by the county grand jury.

According to the indictment, allegations against Kelly date to 2008, the year he was elected to his first term as sheriff of Athens County.

Kelly, 63, is accused of improperly using public funds to buy meals and personal apparel, selling county property to a scrapyard, stealing copper wire from a county garage and failing to keep a cashbook tracking money he received in an official capacity, among other allegations. The indictment also said members of his campaign committees didn’t properly handle and report donations and funneled money through a personal bank account.

Kelly’s arraignment is scheduled Feb. 10.

Kelly, who was the only person charged in the case Friday, denies any wrongdoing.

“I have not committed or attempted to commit a criminal act, nor have any of my employees,” he wrote in a statement released by his office.

Kelly, a Democrat, also accused Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office of operating with a political agenda.

Kelly issued a statement on his Facebook page stating he would not step down.

“By now you have heard the grand jury has issued a 25-count indictment against me. Thank you for all your calls of prayers and support. Truthfully, I am fine. Deb, not so,” he said. “I will not step down as your sheriff and will continue with the same strong leadership and professionalism I have served you with for the past five years.

“I am surrounded by a very strong family, friends and have the support of my staff and employees,” he said. “The staff and employees of the Athens County Sheriff’s Office have been instructed by me to continue with the same mission and vision of professionalism that I have demanded for the past five years.”

Kelly questioned DeWine’s political motives.

“Sadly, the attorney general’s obsession with following a political agenda suggest that their 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,” Kelly said. “I have not committed or attempted to commit a criminal act nor have any of my employees.

“After two years of accusations and suppositions in an attempt to overturn the results of this past election, in which the majority of Athens a County voters cast their confidence in me, we will discuss this injustice in a court setting where the facts will be presented,” Kelly said.

DeWine said the case began with an assault allegation and his staff investigated at the request of local authorities. County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who was elected as a Democrat, also had raised concerns about an audit and the disposal of county records.

Blackburn said during the investigation, BCI and the attorney general’s office requested extended authority due to additional allegations and criminal conduct that was discovered throughout the process.

“Today, a jury of his peers indicted Pat Kelly for felony and misdemeanor conduct related to his office,” Blackburn stated on Athen County Prosecutor’s Facebook page. “While the Prosecutor’s Office will not comment on the facts of the indictment, we respect the grand jury process and the individuals involved throughout this yearlong investigation. Every indicted individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty and this case is no different.”

DeWine said a grand jury of county residents heard from more than 25 witnesses before issuing the public corruption charges against Kelly.

“No one should take any pleasure in what happened today,” DeWine said. “When any elected official is indicted, it is a very sad day.”

DeWine said he would forward information about the charges to the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, beginning the process to determine whether Kelly would have to step aside while the case is pending.

According to court records the felony counts against Kelly were:

* 13 counts of theft while in office, three fourth-degree felonies, and 10 fifth-degree felonies

* four counts of theft, a fifth-degree felony

* one count of failing to keep a cashbook, an unclassified 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 engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony.

The misdemeanor counts were:

* one count of obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor

* one count of dereliction of duty; a second-degree misdemeanor

If convicted of the second-degree misdemeanors he faces a maximum fine of $750 and a maximum of 90 days in jail. For the unclassified felony the maximum fine is $1,000 and 30 days to two years in the county jail.

Fifth-degree felonies have a maximum fine of $2,500 with six to 12 months incarceration, fourth-degree felonies carry a penalty of $5,000 with six to 18 months incarceration.

Third-degree felonies have a maximum fine of $7,500 and 9 to 36 months incarceration, second-degree felonies have a maximum fine of $15,000 and two to eight years incarceration and a first-degree felony has a maximum fine of $20,000 and three to 11 years incarceration.

Any public official convicted of a felony is banned for life from holding office.

The investigation started in late 2012, Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the attorney general, said.

Tierney said the office got involved on the request of the Athens County prosecutor, stating it is not unusual for a county prosecutor to get a special prosecutor or the attorney general to conduct an investigation. In Ohio the county prosecutor is the legal counsel for county agencies and officials.

Blackburn said Athens County citizens can rest assured criminal defendants are being held accountable.

“The Office of County Prosecutor will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure that justice prevails,” he stated. “The cloud of allegations have now resulted in formal charges; it is time for the rest of Athens County to move forward from these illegalities and heal the reputation of law enforcement.”

Blackburn said the prosecutor’s office will not be involved in the prosecution of Kelly and will continue to assist only if requested by the Attorney General’s Office.

“This office has maintained independence from the investigation and will not comment publicly regarding Pat Kelly until the conclusion of the criminal matter,” Blackburn said.

(The Associated Press conributed to this report.)