Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, who has been under a criminal investigation since December, issued a press release Monday blasting investigators for serving subpoenas at his daughter’s school, and demanding that they empanel a special Grand Jury “or cease this politically driven witch hunt immediately.”
“Since mid-December of last year, there has been a criminal investigation directed at me for alleged crimes committed as mayor,” Hastings said in the press release. “I have dutifully complied with various subpoenas and search warrants issued in regard to this investigation headed up by Sheriff (Donnie) Barrera of the Highland County Sheriff’s office. I have endured their investigators’ tactics and, at times, questionable methods of operation.”
Hastings said, “But when the Special Prosecutors decide to include my 7-year-old daughter, going to her school and subpoenaing her records – whatever records a 7-year-old can amass – I will no longer stay silent or sit idly by.” Hastings’ daughter – actually his stepdaughter – attends St. Mary Catholic School in Hillsboro.
The mayor said, “If the team of Special Prosecutors or if Sheriff Donnie Barrera feel that going after a 7-year-old girl’s elementary school records is pertinent to making their case against me, then they need to act. I will not allow my family to be swept up in this misguided prosecution.”
Hastings said he and his family “insist” that investigators “empanel a Special Grand Jury and indict me if they believe they have a valid criminal case or cease this politically-driven witch hunt, immediately.”
Hastings said that as mayor, “I am embarrassed for Hillsboro – the City – as well our role as the County Seat and I believe that I speak for the vast majority of our citizens when I say that this has been a gross waste of taxpayers’ time and money, and has seriously eroded the working relationship between the City and County at the expense of our citizens.”
Contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the state auditor’s office said that Robert F. Smith, the special prosecutor, said he “does not comment on things like that.”
Barrera said Monday, “Unfortunately, I can’t say anything while it’s under investigation.”
The sheriff said he had “no idea” how much longer the investigation will take.
“It’s taking a little longer than anyone thought,” he said.
The criminal investigation against Hastings came to light when a search warrant was served on Dec. 16, the same day that a civil case was filed against Hastings by five Hillsboro residents.
The civil case was dismissed in January by Probate Judge Kevin Greer because an Ohio Supreme Court precedent determined that such a guilty finding could only remove a public official from office during the term in which the alleged malfeasance occurred. Hastings began his second term on Jan. 1.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss has appointed two special prosecutors in the case, including Smith from the state auditor’s office, and Julia Korte from the state ethics commission.
The sheriff’s office has been conducting an investigation into allegations involving the refund of a $500 vacant building fee that Hastings received based on an authorization stamped with the signature of Todd Wilkin, the safety and service director. According to an affidavit, Wilkin told investigators he did not authorize the document.
That issue was also the basis for the civil complaint against Hastings. The criminal case was brought to the sheriff’s office by Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited and an investigator from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation after they interviewed Wilkin, according to an affidavit filed with the initial search warrant.
Investigators are also looking into claims by city workers that Hastings has used city dumpsters to dispose of items from his personal properties. Several sources have said other allegations are also being probed.
A misdemeanor charge against Hastings for attempting to obstruct official business was filed in January by the Hillsboro Police Department in Hillsboro Municipal Court. The Times-Gazette saw the filing when it appeared for a brief time on the court’s website, but it was soon removed.
Officials said later that the obstruction case was being dismissed and would likely be folded into the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the sheriff’s office. The basis for the charge is not known. Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery said at the time that Judge David McKenna had placed a 90-day seal on the case, so he was not permitted to discuss it.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.