Former Huron County Sheriff's Detective Matthew S. Spencer pleaded innocent Monday to eight felonies in connection with stealing more than $10,000 from the evidence room and being involved in a suspected insurance scam.
Spencer, 33, of 420 High St., Willard, is accused of stealing between $10,000 and $15,000 which had been "logged in as evidence" and making a false insurance claim to cover the missing money, Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter has said.
The former Greenwich police chief oversaw the sheriff's office evidence room July 10 when he reported the theft of two firearms, a Fraternal Order of Police emblem, some golf clubs and seven personal checks from his personal vehicle.
Erie County prosecutors have overseen the case after Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler declined to be affiliated with the case. Leffler's office is supposed to receive 20 percent of forfeited drug money in felony cases.
Erie County Assistant Prosecutor Vicki Palmer represented the state during Spencer's arraignment and presented the case to grand jurors Friday afternoon. She expects Baxter to prosecute the case.
"We came in at the end of the regular grand jury (session)," said Palmer, who estimated the Spencer case took about 1 1/2 hours to present.
Spencer faces a July 24 trial on three counts of tampering with evidence and two charges of tampering with records, all third-degree felonies. He also was charged with one count each of theft in office, insurance fraud and falsification, all fifth-degree felonies.
The allegations stem from incidents from July 2004 through the end of July 2006, Palmer said.
Spencer and his attorney, Greg Shell, declined to comment after the in Huron County Common Pleas Court hearing. Spencer was released after signing a bond promising he would return for the June 25 pretrial hearing and other subsequent hearings.
If convicted of failing to appear, a fourth-degree felony, he faces six to 18 months behind bars and a maximum fine of $5,000.
During the hearing, Judge Earl McGimpsey said he will contact the Ohio Supreme Court to have a visiting judge assigned since he is retiring in mid-May. He also noted that judge-elect Jim Conway could have a conflict of interest since his current job as Norwalk law director involves prosecuting cases investigated by deputies.
Sheriff Richard Sutherland has said there was obvious "wrongdoing" after he and two other deputies began investigating Spencer. The sheriff has described Spencer as a "very loyal" employee and admitted to being surprised originally that the detective was accused of criminal behavior.
The three deputies, after about 1 1/2 days of investigation, requested the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation take control of the probe. Sutherland fired Spencer on Aug. 13 after having put his former evidence officer on paid administrative leave for about two weeks.
Shell, Spencer's defense attorney, in a Sept. 11 letter to Leffler, wrote that he was "confident that Matt did nothing wrong in regard to his insurance claim and that he took nothing from the evidence room that was not authorized by court order or the sheriff."
The attorney suggested Spencer "and other members of the sheriff's office" take a polygraph exam. Shell has said Leffler declined his offer, which Shell believed would have resolved the case.
Spencer worked for the Greenwich Police Department for three years, starting Sept. 25, 1997. He became a deputy March 15, 2000 and resigned to be the Greenwich police chief for about a month in May 2003.
After resigning for personal reasons, Spencer rejoined the sheriff's office.