Hillsboro City Auditor Gary Lewis took to The Times-Gazette’s Facebook page over the weekend and posted what he said were facts about some of the allegations in the case involving Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, on the eve of court proceedings where, if the case goes to trial, Lewis might ultimately be called as a witness.
With an arraignment for Hastings on the docket Monday in Highland County Common Pleas Court, Lewis on Saturday joined in on a discussion about the Hastings case on The Times-Gazette’s Facebook page, debating various points with other posters.
At Monday’s arraignment of Hastings, Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove entered a “pre-trial publicity order,” which is essentially a gag order barring anyone associated with the case, including potential witnesses, from discussing the case with the media or on social media platforms such as Facebook.
At one point in his posts on Saturday, Lewis wrote, “Fact: A letter was forged and sent to my office authorizing a refund to the mayor. A refund demanded by the mayor but refused by the safety/service director. Is the evidence gathered by the investigators enough to convince a jury that the mayor was complicit to this illegal activity?”
The letter referenced by Lewis was a request for the refund of $500 Hastings had paid to register a building he owned as a vacant property. The refund request stated it was from “Todd Wilkin, Safety and Service Director,” and contained Wilkin’s stamped signature. Wilkin has since said he did not authorize the refund. Hastings was not charged with forgery. He was charged with tampering with records, apparently in connection with the refund.
In a separate post Saturday, Lewis said, “…it was my name on the check,” adding, “And no, I wasn’t in the wrong.”
Lewis addressed the theft charges against Hastings, writing, “Fact: Debris from the mayor’s property was dumped into a dumpster leased by the city. Thus, constituting theft of services, a charge successfully prosecuted many times in the past. Will a jury find the mayor culpable in this theft?”
On Monday, several law enforcement and court officials said they could not recall a similar case in Highland County history in which someone was charged with a felony for disposing of personal debris in a municipal or county-owned dumpster.
Some recalled misdemeanor charges against people for dumping items in private dumpsters owned by others, including at the Rocky Fork Lake area, as well as a case where a waste district official filed misdemeanor charges over non-recyclables being dumped in recycling bins.
Lewis and others said Monday they recalled an instance involving a local stockyard pursuing charges for someone dumping debris into its dumpster, but again those were misdemeanor charges.
Most felony-level charges for theft of services have involved utilities such as electricity or cable television, officials said. An online search for such cases across the U.S. shows that in some cases, illegally dumping debris into someone else’s trash dumpster has been handled as a trespassing case. Other cases that were charged as felonies were mostly for dumping significant debris or chemicals into streams or on the ground in a way that posed environmental hazards.
In other posts Saturday, Lewis freely shared his feelings about the mayor and the legal proceedings, and even speculated on the process for filling the mayor’s post if Hastings is convicted.
“I work down the hall from the man. I’ll admit that the man is not my cup of tea nor I his,” Lewis wrote. “But I did actively campaign for his reelection last year and I also contributed monetarily to his campaign.”
But Lewis also posted, “Were I in his situation I’d give that political conspiracy schtick a try as well. He’s probably surprised it’s worked so well.”
In another post, Lewis disputed that the Hastings investigation was politically motivated, writing, “What happens should he be convicted of one of the charges and he has to vacate his position? The guy who would become the acting mayor is a Republican… Who selects a new mayor to fill the position until the next election? The Republican Central Committee. I’m pretty sure they’ll select a Republican to fill the void. Who has the advantage when an election occurs? Again, based on historical turnout and the effective efforts of the local Republican Party, a safe bet would be that a Republican will win.”
If Hastings is convicted of a felony, he would be removed from office and Lee Koogler, the current council president and a fellow Republican, would assume the mayor’s office, at least temporarily.
Several times in his posts, Lewis clarified that the case should play out and that he was prepared to accept the verdict, whatever it might be. In one instance he wrote, “These aren’t charges that were made out of whole cloth. Forgery did in fact occur. It’s now going to be up to a jury to decide if he was complicit in it. The dumpster was indeed used to his benefit. How that and the other charges play out remains to be seen. I’ll accept the verdicts.”
Also weighing in on the Facebook discussion was Lisa Leeth, one of the five Hillsboro residents who signed a civil complaint against Hastings that was filed in probate court Dec. 16 just two hours before the launch of the criminal investigation against the mayor.
Leeth wrote, “I hope all the truths come out because it hasn’t been easy being called all those bad names. As a citizen if you know something is wrong I feel it is our duty to report it and not be bullied or slandered for doing it. I did what I had to do and in my heart I did the right thing.”
Leeth said the case is not a conspiracy, and expressed her belief in the justice system. She added, “I accept the fact I signed that civil suit, if I had it to (do) again I would have to do the same thing.”
Fred Beery, the city law director, previously told The Times-Gazette that the idea for the civil suit came from “the law enforcement community.” The suit was dismissed by Judge Kevin Greer based on an Ohio Supreme Court precedent that ruled that alleged wrongdoing in one term could not be pursued in another term under the state code governing the civil suit.
Hastings is charged with election falsification, theft, theft in office and tampering with records. At his arraignment on Monday, a trial date was set for Nov. 7.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.