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Pike County sheriff indicted by grand jury

By Holly Zachariah • Jun 28, 2019 at 6:11 PM

WAVERLY — A Pike County grand jury on Friday indicted Sheriff Charles Reader on 16 charges. The charges are: seven charges of conflict of interest, four charges of theft in office, two charges of theft, one charge each of tampering with evidence, tampering with records and securing writings by deception.

"This has been a long and intensive investigation with unfortunate and very serious results. It is our job to hold public officials accountable and root out fraud, waste, and abuse in our communities, state Auditor Keith Faber said in a news release. "We do not take these charges lightly and recognize that no one is above the law. While this is a major step toward seeking justice, our team is fully prepared to present these findings to a jury as this matter moves forward. I'd like to commend everyone who worked on this case for the immense amount of effort and detail that has been dedicated to the investigation."

Robert Smith, of the Ohio auditor's office, said "we already have his fingerprints" and that Reader has been cooperating so he won't be arrested. He will be issued a summons to appear in court on Tuesday.

The specific charges include that he misused a Chevrolet Silverado truck and a Nissan Versa that had been impounded; that he took loans totaling $3,000 from one county vendor as well as loans totaling $6,000 from his employees, including his former chief deputy.

Smith said that because they are just charges, there is no law that says the sheriff must immediately lose his job.

He had no comment as to whether any other charges against anyone else would be forthcoming.

Reader was forced onto a national stage in 2016 when tragedy struck his southern Ohio community. All eyes were on the Appalachian county where he grew up when, on April 22 of that year, eight members of the Rhoden family were shot to death in four separate homes overnight in rural Piketon.

The sheriff never hid his emotions as, that very night, he stared into a camera and told the killers he was coming for them. Or later when he told residents to arm themselves if they felt unsafe as the search for the killers went on. Or more than 2 1/2 years later, in November of last year, when he and then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine together announced that authorities had finally arrested the Wagner family and charged them with the murders.

But just a week or later, rumors surfaced that he might be in trouble.

It all started when someone sent an anonymous complaint to the Ohio auditor's office that same month, alleging that Reader was stealing drug forfeiture money taken from arrests and that he kept money in a safe in his office that only he had access to.

The complaint accused Reader of a gambling addiction, and said he owed money to people around town and at least one of his deputies. It also accused him of having an affair with his secretary, and owing a large sum of money to her boyfriend.

The complaint alleged that Reader let his teenage daughter drive cars that had been impounded and that he "just does whatever he wants and no one ever calls him on it ... he is unstable and threatens people."

That kick-started a state investigation. On Dec. 13 the Ohio auditor's office issued a subpoena to the Pike County auditor's office for what would have amounted thousands of pages of documents generated by Reader's office since Jan. 1, 2016.

State investigators also showed up at his remodeled sheriff's office headquarters on Route 23 in Waverly with subpoenas, and seized records from there.

They sought a laundry list of items including vendor contracts, vouchers, purchase orders and billings statements.

Authorities also seized payroll records and personnel files, including expense reports and information on outside employment for Reader and 15 other employees. One of those employees was Brian Reader, who at that time was an investigator for Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk and held a special-deputy commission with the sheriff's office. Junk fired Reader in February, and said he didn't have to state a reason because he was an at-will employee.

Perhaps most importantly all records related to the sheriff's Law Enforcement Trust Fund account and Furtherance of Justice account — two lightly-regulated funds that have ensnared many a public law enforcement official over the years for misspending — were also taken by the state. They also seized all records related to a multi-agency drug task force Reader assembled.

At that same time last year, Prosecutor Junk had asked that Smith, of the Ohio auditor's office, be appointed special prosecutor in the case.

Immediately, tensions between Junk and Reader boiled over and the two have been publicly fighting ever since.

In May, Junk sent Reader a letter asking him to recuse himself from any investigations.

"In your personal situation, being under investigation by the Ohio Auditor of State's Special Investigations Unit, this office is requesting that you refrain from taking part in any criminal investigation in which you may be a potential witness unless and/or until you have been cleared of any wrongdoing." The two traded insults and accusations on their personal social-media accounts before eventually deleting them.

Reader hadn't had an easy time of it, even before the Rhoden homicides.

He had inherited the investigation of a fatal officer-involved shooting involving former Deputy Joel Jenkins, who was charged with murder for a pursuit that ended in a man's death. A jury later acquitted him, but Jenkins had also faced a charge that he accidentally shot and killed a neighbor after a night of drinking. (He spent a year in prison for that.) Reader had to go through a nasty battle with the union to suspend and fire Jenkins, and the trial and plea were public-relations headaches.

The case against Reader is not expected to cause legal issues with the pending murder cases.

“This will have no impact on the Wagner capital murder cases, as Sheriff Reader was not the primary witness for any issue of fact or law,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Ohio sheriffs act with integrity and honor, and this rare occurrence does not reflect the excellent work they do daily throughout their counties.”

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©2019 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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