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Melon Fest former officials indicted

Cary Ashby • Jul 23, 2018 at 6:33 PM

MILAN — The former secretary and president of the Milan Melon Festival are accused of mishandling thousands of dollars related to the annual event.

An Erie County grand jury recently indicted ex-festival board secretary Aaron W. Timbs, 47, and his wife, Tracey L. Timbs, 47, of 52 Ranch Road, Milan, on one count each of complicity to grand theft. Tracey, who served as president, also was charged with tampering with evidence.

“They were secretly indicted on these charges,” Milan Police Chief Bob Meister said. “They were ordered to turn themselves into the jail, … but the judge arranged for a (personal recognizance aka P.R.) bond.”

A P.R. bond means the defendants signed a court document in which they promised to appear for all future hearings without paying any money. A grand jury issues a secret indictment when authorities suspect a defendant might flee the area.

Police received the initial complaint Nov. 11, 2016 and eventually turned the case over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

“Both Aaron and Tracey resigned their respective positions right after, I believe, the initial investigation started,” Meister said. “(BCI) came up with a figure of around $18,000 (was missing); we suspect that number is a lot higher. During the course of the investigation, records were destroyed.”

According to the BCI report, Aaron Timbs reportedly released some documents to festival board members, but his wife is accused of failing to do so. Also during the investigation, Snyder said he determined “all of the documents controlled by Tracey were either thrown away or burnt” and she reportedly did so because “she was mad at the members of the festival” and didn’t want the board members to have them. BCI investigators confirmed these allegations with Tracey Timbs’ father and his girlfriend.

“A total of eight years she was associated with the festival,” Meister said. “Tracey was in charge of the rides, games and vendors during the festival. She stated she never counted money she received from vendors or the ride contractor. Tracey sometimes would deposit money for the festival to the bank.”

Aaron Timbs, according to BCI, is accused of withdrawing or withholding festival funds “for his own personal use” while his wife was suspected of assisting him in failing to disclose financial reports mandated by the festival by-laws. In addition, the report indicates when the new treasurer questioned Aaron about most of the “questionable transactions,” he “could not explain” them. 

“Tracey said she did not have audits performed on the festival accounts, per festival by-laws. She threw her husband under the bus at one point and said she knew the treasurer — Tracey’s husband, Aaron — was not able to manage money,” Meister said.

“On Nov. 11, 2016, two complainants from the Milan Melon Festival committee came into the station and advised that over their time as members of the festival, they believe that the treasurer, Aaron Timbs, and his wife Tracey, who at the time was the festival president, may have been misleading them about the financial accounts of the festival,” he said.

“The initial complainant stated she first found out there may be funds missing in October of 2016. She said that Aaron came to (he) and approached (her) about a fundraiser and she asked him why they would need to raise funds. Aaron replied they could not pay all their bills from this year and the complainant stated there should be more than enough money to pay this year’s bills.”

After receiving the complaint, police requested financial records from board members.

“They provided us with tax returns from 2011 through 2014. They also provided us (with) a draft of the 2015 taxes, but if you’ll notice, it says ‘draft’ on it because nobody wanted to sign off on it when they realized there could be (money missing),” Meister said.

“We decided at that point we needed to bring some experts in because of the complexity of the case and the amount of legwork it was going to take to track down these facts and figures.”

On Nov. 15, 2016, police requested the assistance of BCI. According to the BCI report, special agent Jason Snyder interviewed 10 people — including the suspects, and went through documents for the festival by-laws, board members’ meeting notes, Key Bank documents, the concession stand contract, police report and Premium Shows of America ride contract.

“His job was to subpoena bank records,” Meister said. 

The festival board consists of volunteers who usually meet one Sunday each month.

“There is a lot involved in the festival,” Meister said. “It’s a big deal for Milan; there’s a lot of stuff to go through to keep this thing running.

“We were disappointed to find out about the initial accusations, but we are relieved that it didn’t go any further (than it did). The Melon Festival will be celebrating its 60th year of providing entertainment to Milan and the surrounding area and we’re confident it will continue at this point,” the chief added.

“The leadership that is in place now is a great group of individuals that have come together as a team to ensure the festival will continue on (for many years).”

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