Photo: Debbie Sansone
By Gary Abernathy – firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigators from the state auditor’s office probing Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings served a search warrant Wednesday at the home of Hastings’ administrative assistant, Debbie Sansone, and her husband, Rick, confiscating the Sansones’ home computers.
Debbie Sansone said Thursday that investigators arrived around 5 p.m. to serve the warrant and confiscate the computers. A search warrant and affidavit provided by Hillsboro Municipal Court on Thursday states that along with desktop and laptop computers, flash drives and disks were also confiscated and turned over to the investigator from the office of Ohio Auditor Dave Yost.
In a description of the event emailed to The Times-Gazette by Rick Sansone, he writes, “Just ask yourself how in this day and age someone can do without the personal information that is stored on their home computer. I, sadly, have a heart condition and an extremely rare neurological disease called Isaac’s Syndrome. All of my medical information was stored, naturally enough, on our home computer. All of our tax information was stored on our home computer. Gee whiz, I sure hope the ‘investigators’ enjoy the many recipes which are also stored on our home computer. We like to cook so they should be enjoying some really good food. I’d like to recommend the ‘Lasagna Bolognese,’ it’s really good.”
One person with knowledge of the investigation said the computers would likely be returned quickly.
The warrant stated that investigators were looking for evidence of theft in office, tampering with records, forgery and obstructing official business.
A warrant was also issued Wednesday for computers, laptops and external drives at the city building, but a return receipt states that nothing was taken. Computers and documents were the subject of a search at the city building conducted in December, when the investigation began.
The affidavits accompanying both search warrants issued Wednesday include information contained in previous affidavits and reported earlier, including issues involving a $500 rebate Hastings received for a vacant property fee he had paid, allegations of forgery involving the stamped signature of Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin, and another search in January of Sansone’s computer at the city building.
Earlier affidavits previously reported by The Times-Gazette included allegations that Hastings had used a city dumpster for personal items, and that he had asked a witness to “lie” about the use of a city dumpster.
The affidavits filed Wednesday state that Debbie Sansone is now under investigation along with Hastings. The document states that officials are “currently conducting an investigation involving Drew Hastings, Mayor of the City of Hillsboro, and City of Hillsboro Secretary Debbie Sansone.”
The affidavit attached to the warrant to confiscate Sansone’s personal computers and flash drives indicate that investigators are probing whether documents were transferred from city computers to private ones.
The affidavit states that Sansone’s city-issued computer was analyzed by an expert with the Ohio Bureau of Investigation Cyber Crime Lab, who determined that while the document authorizing the $500 refund was accessed on the computer, “there is no evidence of the file being printed” from that computer.
The analyst “stated that during his analysis that 8 different flash/thumb drives were used” on the city-issued computer. The expert concluded that “it is possible that the ‘06-24-2015 Refund of Vacant Building Fee’ file was transferred to a flash/thumb drive and printed from another computer either located in the City of Hillsboro offices or off site.”
The affidavit states that Eric Daniels, IT manager for the city, stated “that Debbie Sansone has the ability to access the City of Hillsboro network from home using the City VPN” and “Debbie Sansone is the largest off-site VPN user of all City employees.”
Based on the information, the affidavit states that investigators believed that “evidence of Forgery, Obstruction of Official Business, Theft in Office and Tampering with records will be located on Debbie Sansone’s personal computer/laptop and/or USB flash/thumb drives,” located at her residence.
Wednesday’s affidavit also includes a previously unreported interview investigators had with Paint Creek Fire Chief Bradley George on Feb. 22. The affidavit states that George confirmed that he originally inspected a property at 135 N. High St. purchased by Hastings – the former county annex building – and determined that it was deemed vacant.
It is that property on which Hastings paid the $500 vacant property fee, which was later refunded to him after a letter containing Wilkin’s stamped signature authorized the refund. Wilkin told investigators he did not sign the letter or authorize his stamped signature to be used. He said he emailed Debbie Sansone and another assistant outlining the proper procedures that needed to be followed for a refund to be approved.
In his email to The Times-Gazette, Rick Sansone, a former bailiff with Hillsboro Municipal Court, writes that along with medical and tax information, “Our family photos were also on our home computer. But everyone who is reading this fully understands the loss of information that I’m speaking thereof. When will our home computer be returned? Who knows!”
He adds, “Debbie was and continues to be proud of her position with Mayor Hastings and the job he has done for the City of Hillsboro. She hasn’t done a thing that deserves this kind of treatment and investigation into our private life. But you know I should be thankful, they served the search warrant during the daytime hours.”
He was apparently referring to a nighttime search of the mayor’s Hillsboro residence conducted in February.
Sheriff Donnie Barrera said Thursday that he could not comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, although the sheriff confirmed again that the investigation is being led by the state auditor’s office.
Debbie Sansone served as a clerk with the Highland County Commissioners for more than a decade prior to joining Hastings’ staff within a few days of the mayor assuming office in January 2012.
Rick Sansone’s complete email detailing his version of Wednesday’s events can be found on Friday’s Opinion Page, or online at http://aimmedianetwork.com/opinion/6940/rick-sansone-when-will-you-make-an-end
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.com.