Facing 16 felony and misdemeanor counts ranging from theft in office to tampering with evidence, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader was scheduled to be in a courtroom Tuesday, but in a manner in which he is no doubt unfamiliar — that of defendant — in front of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering.
In December, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk asked Deering to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate against Reader’s supposed activities. Junk acted after an anonymous complaint against Reader was filed with the state auditor’s office. According to court documents, on Dec. 3, 2018, Deering named attorney Robert F. Smith of the auditor’s office.
However, in a statement released after the Pike County Grand Jury indicted Reader on Friday, Auditor Keith Faber said an investigation into Reader’s activities and led by the Auditor’s Special Investigations Unit began over a year ago.
“This has been a long and intensive investigation with unfortunate and very serious results,” Faber said. “It is our job to hold public officials accountable and root out fraud, waste and abuse in our communities. We do not take these charges lightly and recognize that no one is above the law. While this is a major step toward seeking justice, our team is fully prepared to present these findings to a jury as this matter moves forward.”
The anonymous complaint against Reader alleges the sheriff “keeps the cash confiscated on drug cases in a small safe in his office that only he has access to. We believe he is taking money from the safe and using it for personal use.”
The complaint goes on to describe Reader as a compulsive gambler who never has any money of his own. It charges him with borrowing several thousand dollars from investigators connected with the sheriff’s department. The complainant also alleges Reader owes a local car dealer over $20,000 and further claims he took impounded cars off the police lot for use by his daughter.
“Reader just does whatever he wants, and no one ever calls him on it,” the complaint reads in part.
“We are scared to death of him. He is unstable and threatens people,” it concludes.
As already noted, the Pike County Grand Jury indicted Reader on 16 charges including seven charges of conflict of interest, four charges of theft in office, two charges of theft, one charge each of tampering with evidence, tampering with records and securing writings by deception.
Prior to the appearance of the anonymous complaint against him, Reader was an observer in Deering’s courtroom for several of the pre-trials in the infamous Rhoden murder cases. Last year, he appeared with then Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine at the press conference announcing the arrest of six members of the Wagner family for various crimes connected with those murders, most notably including eight counts of aggravated murder filed against each of four of the suspects.
Current Attorney General Dave Yost released a statement saying the charges against Reader do not affect the Rhoden case.
“This will have no impact on the Wagner capital murder cases as Sheriff Reader was not the primary witness for any issue of fact or law,” said Yost in a prepared statement. “Ohio sheriffs act with integrity and honor, and this rare occurrence does not reflect the excellent work they do daily throughout their counties.”
It seems difficult to say which of the charges against Reader are the most serious. The theft in office charges seem likely to attract a lot of attention from the public. Those counts are not very specific in terms of what might have been stolen or misappropriated.
For example, one count of the theft in office charges, each of which is a fourth-degree felony, states in late December 2018 Reader “did knowingly commit a theft offense… having used his office in aid of committing the offense.” The indictment places the value of “property or services stolen” at over $1,000 but less than $7,500.
The same dollar amount is listed in connection with each of the theft or theft in office charges except one, a theft charge, which places the value of whatever was misappropriated at less than $1,000. That charge is listed as a misdemeanor.
The first charge listed is tampering with evidence, a felony of the third degree. The indictment alleges Reader, knowing an investigation was in progress or was about to be, “did make, present or use any record, document or thing, knowing it to be false and with purpose to mislead the public official who is or may be engaged in such proceeding or investigation or with purpose to corrupt the outcome of any such proceeding or investigation.”
The second count listed is tampering with records, another third-degree felony. This count alleges Reader, again in late December, falsified or tampered with some sort of public record “with purpose to defraud or knowing that he was facilitating a fraud.”
The other charges against reader are lower degree felonies or first-degree misdemeanors.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.