The criminal investigation continues into allegations against Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, according to Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, with the probe taking longer than Barrera initially hoped.
On Jan. 8, Barrera said the investigation would likely take “a couple of more weeks,” but on Friday he said it would take longer. He said special prosecutor Robert F. Smith of the state auditor’s office has been aggressively pursuing the investigation and has been in frequent contact with Sgt. Chris Bowen, the point person from the sheriff’s office on the probe.
Smith was just appointed last week by Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss to serve as a special prosecutor on the case.
Barrera said that if the evidence obtained leads to charges, the matter will go to a grand jury before any arrests are made or summonses are issued. The grand jury meets in Highland County on the first Tuesday of each month. But a special session of a grand jury can also be called.
Hastings’ attorney, James Boulger of Chillicothe, said Friday he knows Smith and has been involved in cases with him in the past.
“I’ve handled cases with Robert over the last 15 or 20 years,” said Boulger.
Boulger said he hopes to speak with Smith soon to “reach an understanding, if this is presented to a grand jury and gets indicted, how to handle it going forward.”
Earlier this week, more subpoenas were issued for records from the mayor’s office, The Times-Gazette learned, in addition to other records that were obtained earlier after search warrants were first filed.
The first 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 earlier this month by Probate Judge Kevin Greer because an Ohio Supreme Court precedent determined that 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.
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 of attempting to obstruct official business was filed earlier this month by the Hillsboro Police Department in Hillsboro Municipal Court against Hastings. 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 that Judge David McKenna had placed a 90-day seal on the case, so he was not permitted to discuss it.
Hastings has called the allegations against him politically motivated and “ludicrous,” and said he looks forward to refuting the claims.
Hastings has continued his daily routine as mayor, along with keeping his schedule of appearances at events around the region. He recently performed a stand-up comedy show in Indiana, appeared on the “Bob & Tom Show” on radio, spoke to the Clinton County GOP Century Club dinner on Monday, and addressed the Hillsboro Rotary Club on Tuesday.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.