MOUNT VERNON — Pamela Hinkens, former director of the Mid-Ohio Transit Authority (MOTA, now Knox Area Transit), entered a plea of guilty to one count of theft in office. In return for Tuesday’s guilty plea, Special Prosecutor Margaret Tomaro indicated from the Ohio Attorney General’s office, they would recommend a sentence of community control. The charge was also reduced from a fourth-degree felony to a fifth degree.
Judge Otho Eyster accepted the plea and set sentencing for Sept. 28. He noted that he does not have to accept the prosecution’s sentence recommendation and she could face six to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 and possible restitution.
The restitution proved to be the big issue of the day. Entering the plea took only a few minutes, but the court then held a restitution hearing that lasted until after 2 p.m., minus a lunch break.
Hinkens was indicted in October by the Knox County grand jury on one count of theft in office. She was charged with embezzling more than $5,000 from the MOTA while serving as director from 2005 through 2009.
An audit by the Ohio Department of Transportation found “unallowable compensation to MOTA’s administrator” including a 6 percent raise that was not authorized by MOTA’s board. The audit also said she was overpaid 40 hours of vacation when she left the position.
The audit also revealed two reimbursement claims by Hinkens, including $137 for registration of her personal vehicles and $716 in travel expenses that were originally paid by MOTA but reimbursed to her before and after the conference in Spokane, Wash.
Hinkens was given a three-year community control sentence for discrepancies in the Knox County Republican Party’s books that occurred while she was treasurer. Five months later, the community control was terminated.
She was indicted on theft in office charges for taking more than $10,000 from the party over a two-year period. She made full restitution by the time she was sentenced in April and was sentenced to three years of community control for the fourth degree felony.
Much of the restitution hearing was taken up with current KAT Director Hillary Patterson, who testified about the discrepancies discovered during the ODOT audit.
The biggest item was the 6 percent raise Hinkens received in 2006, when everyone else received a 3 percent raise. Hinkens testified later that the MOTA Board had acted at its April meeting that year to grant her a raise to $45,000 instead of the 3 percent hike. She said board member Tom McLarnan told her to make the change in her pay.
However, the minutes of that meeting are missing and there is apparently no written authorization to make the change.
Patterson said she “scoured” the computer system to find the minutes, thinking they may have been misfiled. She also searched paper files at the office looking for a physical copy of the minutes.
Corroborating Hinkens’ account was that of former Operations Manager John Madden, who said he received 4 percent raise at the same time and was told of it by McLarnan.
Hinkens also testified that the issue of her salary was not raised again before she left the job in 2009, although annual audits were conducted.
McLarnan is ill and cannot testify about his actions.
In pleading guilty to the one charge, Hinkens admitted she had accepted reimbursement for travel expenses she should not have. She said she had paid for her trip with a MOTA check, but thought she had used her own account and was entitled to the reimbursement.
She could not explain why documentation for several expense items was missing. Part of the expenses appear to be MOTA funds being used to pay for vanity license plates and for her personal cell phone, but she disputed that interpretation of the records, saying the bookkeeper’s use of her initials PSH and PSH2 simply indicated expense items she had submitted.
Defense attorney Ron Koltac also raised the issue of who had access to the computers during the months after Hinkens left and before Patterson was hired. He also pointed out that although board member Dorothy Parker testified that Hinkens had not received any raise over 3 percent, records showed she received a 5 percent raise in 2008.
Eyster said this was the first restitution hearing he has conducted. The hearing is intended to help him make a determination of how much restitution Hinkens will be ordered to pay.
There is no disagreement that money is owed, but there is significant disagreement on how much, he explained.
Hinkens indicted by grand jury October 4, 2011
Hinkens pleads guilty to theft in office February 17, 2010
BCII checking out Republican Party books April 8, 2008
Knox County GOP Treasurer Hinkens resigns April 7, 2009