Photo: This city-owned dumpster located near the city barns on Railroad Street is where Mayor Drew Hastings is alleged to have disposed of items from his personal properties.
By Gary Abernathy – firstname.lastname@example.org
If a criminal investigation focused on Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings moves forward, it would likely not be presented to a grand jury until at least February, the county prosecutor said Friday.
First, though, Hastings faces a civil case brought by five city residents accusing him of malfeasance. If he is found guilty, the civil penalty is removal from office. An initial hearing on that case is set for Wednesday before Judge Kevin Greer in Highland County Probate Court.
In regard to any criminal charges, Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins said that Friday was the cut-off for cases to be given to her by law enforcement to be presented to the January grand jury.
Meanwhile, Hastings said Thursday he has retained Chillicothe attorney James Boulger to represent him. Hastings met with Boulger Thursday afternoon.
Collins said that when a case is presented to her, she examines it in detail and sometimes requests that more work be performed by investigators if she feels the case is not compelling. Those elements require additional time beyond the initial investigation, she said.
Investigators with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant Wednesday night at the Hillsboro city building, which houses the mayor’s office and the city auditor’s office, among others.
According to a follow-up document filed Thursday, investigators seized a number of documents, photocopies and emails from administrative offices, including an inspection letter “pertaining to 100 S. High St. Hillsboro,” which is the former 5/3 bank building owned by Hastings, an “email letter dated June 19, 2015, 4:07 p.m. from Todd Wilkin to Debbie Sansone explaining registration fees and refunds,” an email from Heather Collins dated 6-20-14 sent to Drew Hastings, Todd Wilkin, Debbie Sansone, Randy Barr,” and other correspondence.
From the auditor’s office, investigators seized copies of a refund, a purchase order, and two memos, one “to Todd Wilkin” stamped Dec. 16, 2015, the day of the search.
Wilkin is the safety and service director. Sansone and Collins are administrative assistants to the mayor, and Barr is the water/sewer and streets manager.
The search was based on an affidavit from an interview with Todd Wilkin and various unnamed city employees over the refund of $500 Hastings had paid for a vacant property he owns, and the mayor’s alleged use of a city dumpster to dispose of items from personal property.
The affidavit states that Wilkin told Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited and an agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation that he did not sign or authorize his signature stamp to be used on a letter authorizing the refund, even though it contains what appears to be his stamped signature. Wilkin said he was not at work on the date included with the letter.
City employees claimed that Hastings “or persons driving Drew Hastings’ truck” have dumped “building materials and carpet” into the city-owned dumpster, which is located near city barns on Railroad Street, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit, filed by Sgt. Randy Sanders of the sheriff’s office, states that the information constitutes “evidence of Forgery and Theft in Office.” Officials said Friday the investigation is ongoing.
Hastings earlier called the refund matter “ludicrous,” and later said of the dumpster issue, “I look forward to defending myself and refuting this. Let’s resolve this trash can issue.”
On Friday, Hastings said his attorney has advised him against further comment on the case. Boulger, Hastings’ attorney, is no stranger to the Highland County Courthouse, having served as a defense counsel on numerous cases here.
Like part of the criminal case being probed, the civil case against Hastings also centers on the $500 rebate he received for a vacant fee he paid after he bought the old county annex building, located across North High Street from the city building. The suit was filed by city employee Craig Jackson, along with Kirby Ellison, Betty Bishop, Ariana Jackson and Lisa Leeth.
That filing includes as an exhibit a copy of a letter dated June 24, 2015, to Gary Lewis, the city auditor, purportedly from Wilkin, requesting the issuance of the refund. But Wilkin has now said he did not sign the document or authorize it to be stamped with his signature, according to the affidavit in the criminal investigation.
Under Ohio law, the civil case against an elected official moves much more quickly than a criminal felony case, unless the stipulated dates are waived. For example, the law requires an initial hearing within 10 days of the filing of the complaint, and then a trial to be held within another 10 days after the first hearing. Either party can request a jury trial, consisting of 12 jurors.
Law Director Fred Beery is required by law to prosecute the civil case against Hastings.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.