Ohio Mayor found guilty of theft in office

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio (WTRF) — Suspended Dover Mayor Richard P. Homrighausen was convicted by a jury, according to the Times reporter.

The verdict came after morning deliberations Wednesday in the Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court of six men and six women on theft during his tenure and five other counts.

The jury found the eight-year-old mayor guilty of four counts of seeking improper compensation for collecting fees for conducting four wedding ceremonies and breaching his duty by failing to pay the payments to the city treasury.

He was acquitted of wrongful participation in a public contract in an indictment related to the hiring of his son Peter at City Light Plant in 2013.

Because of the theft during his tenure, Homrighausen is barred from holding public office for life with the conviction. Special Prosecutor Robert F. Smith of the Ohio Office of Public Accountants said that this becomes effective upon his conviction. Convictions for asking for improper compensation carry a seven-year ban. His trial began on November 8th.

Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos has scheduled the sentencing for January 17 and ordered a background investigation to be conducted prior to sentencing. Homrighausen’s potential penalty was not immediately available.

He was originally charged with collecting $9,295 in fees for 231 weddings, but the jury made an additional finding on the office theft charge. They said the value was less than $1,000, apparently referring to the fees for the four weddings in the improper compensation charge.

The lower dollar amount means Homrighausen, 74, can keep his state pension, according to prosecutors and the Times Reporter.

The higher amount would have made the charge a third-degree felony. The lesser amount makes the charge a lesser fifth-degree felony.

Smith said the CPA will file a civil claim for recovery to recover the entire $9,295, less the restitution ordered by the judge, and to order Homrighausen to reimburse the state for the $3,956 in the special audit leading to the indictments have led.

He said the City of Dover has the right to try to recover that portion of the mayor’s $100,542 salary that Homrighausen has received since his suspension on April 4.

Homrighausen, who was initially charged with 15 cases in March, had six tax charges dropped by prosecutors in July, the Times reporter reported.

On Tuesday, Thomakos Homrighausen acquitted two of the original charges. She found Homrighausen not guilty of a breach of duty for failure to pay fees collected for wedding ceremonies between January 2014 and January 2021.

Her rationale for acquittal on that indictment was that the section of Ohio law cited in the indictment does not apply to cities like Dover. Dover is organized under state law as opposed to a charter town which is organized under locally enacted rules.

According to the Timesreporter, the judge also found Homrighausen not guilty of representation by an officer. Homrighausen was charged with attending an overtime appeal on February 21, 2016 by his son, a City Light Plant employee, and ruling as mayor. Thomakos ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict Homrighausen of these charges.

In 2015, Homrighausen’s son and two other Dover Light Plant employees applied for overtime pay they had not worked. Homrighausen refused her request. The factory workers claimed they were entitled to compensation because they were not given an equal opportunity to work overtime.

The special prosecutor said he was satisfied with the verdicts but awaited an appeal.

“I always respect the jury’s decision,” he said. “You’ve heard the evidence. You heard the law. They have the toughest job of all of us and it’s their choice, so I respect their judgment completely.”

Defense attorney Mark R. DeVan did not say whether his client would appeal.

Shane Gunnoe, interim mayor of Dover, said he was “incredibly grateful to the State for their careful consideration and prosecution of the matter. I am relieved that justice has been done to the people of the city of Dover. I am also grateful to our staff and all the witnesses who have testified what they knew before the state, the defense and the jury. Most importantly, I’m happy for the people of the City of Dover that we finally have a solution to this matter.”

Gunnoe said the law stipulated that he would only become interim mayor until Homrighausen was removed. If Gunnoe leaves, the office will be free.

Council President Justin Perkowski would then become acting mayor. The Republican Central Committee at Dover will select someone for Homrighausen’s remaining four-year term, which ends December 31, 2023.

According to the Times reporter, in closing arguments to the jury, DeVan, while waving his son’s resume, said that Homrighausen wasn’t asking anyone to hire his son, he just asked the light factory supervisors, “Do you think this guy’s going to work?”

Dover Law Director Douglas O’Meara has been accused by Devan of being called a “puppeteer”. Devan said O’Meara controlled other witnesses who testified against Homrighausen. O’Meara told Devan that he should have told Homrighausen not to carry out the acts leading up to the charges.

The mayor’s longtime administrative assistant, Eva Newsome, explained how she organized the weddings Homrighausen performed for him while she was working. Devan accused Newsome of slandering her statement to her former boss and says she made up a fictional story because she didn’t like her job or her boss. She now works for interim mayor Gunnoe.

In their closing arguments, special prosecutors from the Ohio Auditor’s Office stated that Homrighausen was not involved in any illegal acts involving his son or his duties as mayor.

However, Special Prosecutor Samuel J. Kirk said the problem lay in Homrighausen’s involvement in Peter’s hiring and that the application process was bypassed to show favoritism.

“The mayor of Dover ran for his son,” Kirk said.

The wedding fees were withheld by Homrighausen instead of being deposited in the city treasury, the special prosecutor’s office claimed. Kirk denied the defense’s claim that someone should have told the mayor to pay the dues to the city.

The closing arguments were followed by a testimony from Dover Light & Power Superintendent Jason Hall, who said he was under pressure to hire Peter Homrighausen after receiving his CV from his father.

Dover Light & Power service director David Douglas said he feared he would be fired if he had not agreed to Peter’s hiring.

Both Douglas and Hall said the mayor made the final decisions about hiring.