MOUNT VERNON — Appearing in Mount Vernon Municipal Court on Wednesday, Knox County Sheriff David Barber pleaded no contest to the charge of dereliction of duty, but was found guilty. Visiting judge Stuart Miller fined Barber $500 plus court costs.
The charge, a second-degree misdemeanor, stems from allegations of improper use of Law Enforcement Trust Funds in October 2004. Barber wrote several checks totaling $1,041.67 for expenses relating to his re-election campaign for sheriff. He repaid the money in November 2004.
In court, special prosecutor Paul Scarsella said Barber cooperated with officials throughout the investigation, and that Barber acknowledged he did write the checks from the LETF for campaign expenses. He said investigators found no criminal intent on Barber’s part.
Barber’s attorney, Ron Koltak, said Barber was “up front and forthright” from the beginning of the investigation, pointing out that when the checks were written, the purpose was written in the memo section of the checks.
“Dave understands he’s responsible for what’s occurred,” he said. “... He takes full responsibility for what occurred.”
In rendering the guilty verdict, Miller said, “This was just a stupid mistake.”
“I certainly regret the bad decision I made about five years ago,” said Barber. “I certainly apologize to this community, who has trusted me to serve ... ”
Barber also apologized to his campaign treasurer, Mark Leonard, and to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and deputies.
According to Ted Hart, head of media relations for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, the lesser charge of dereliction of duty was settled upon because the more serious charge of theft in office requires an intent to permanently deprive. In this case, deprive the trust funds of the money with no intent to pay the money back. Theft in office was one of the charges considered, but the special prosecutor’s office felt the lesser charge fit the facts. The case did not go to a grand jury; Barber merely pleaded to a complaint in municipal court.
Being found guilty of a second-degree misdemeaner does not have any effect on Barber’s status as an elected official or peace officer, according to Hart. Basically, he said, Barber paid his fine and went back to work.
Allegations of improper use of the funds came to light in July 2008, and were referred to Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher. Because the county prosecutor serves as counsel for the county sheriff, Thatcher referred the case to the Bureau of Identification and Investigation.
For the dereliction of duty charge, Barber could have been fined up to $750 plus court costs, and up to 90 days in jail, or both. The charges were filed Wednesday.
Miller is a retired judge from Wayne County’s Municipal Court. He was appointed to hear the case by the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.