An additional special assistant prosecuting attorney has been appointed to assist in the case investigating allegations against Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, this one from the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss said Monday that Julia Korte, chief investigative attorney for the Ohio Ethics Commission, will assist special prosecutor Robert F. Smith, an investigator from the Ohio auditor’s office appointed by Coss on Jan. 14.
In announcing the appointment, Coss said, “I had intended to appoint Ms. Korte when Robert Smith was appointed, but had to wait until the Ohio Ethics Commission reviewed the proposed appointment at its meeting last Friday.”
When the case first came to light, some sources indicated that part of the challenge in the investigation was sorting out alleged criminal activity from activity that might instead be deemed unethical. The appointment of both criminal and ethics office special prosecutors might indicate an effort to separate criminal activity from ethical violations.
The Hastings investigation came to light on Dec. 16 when a civil case was filed in Highland County Probate Court by five Hillsboro residents, followed just two hours later by a search warrant issued in a criminal probe, based in part on the same allegations contained in the civil case.
The civil case was dismissed earlier this month 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.
The sheriff’s office is conducting the criminal 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.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.