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Jailed two years, whistleblower accepts plea bargain

By Patrick Pfanner • Jul 1, 2019 at 5:00 PM

PORT CLINTON — Put-in-Bay whistleblower Keith Blumensaadt is a free man.

Blumensaadt — who accused former Put-in-Bay Mayor Bernard “Mac” McCann of corruption, which led to the mayor’s conviction and resignation from public office — was released from jail Friday after more than two years behind bars.

“I’m happy to be out but my whole life is ruined. My wife, my kids, my job — everything is gone,” Blumensaadt said.

He accepted a deal to plead guilty to three charges in exchange for a two-year prison term with credit for time served plus a 180-day suspended jail sentence. He also must not visit Put-in-Bay for one year unless accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy, Ottawa County prosecutor James VaEerten said.

“My mom is really sick and this whole thing was just killing her, so I made my decision to take the offer,” Blumensaadt said of his plea deal.

The charges on his deal, which stem from a June 2017 standoff with Put-in-Bay police, include amended counts of possession of a weapon under disability and attempted possession of dangerous ordnance; and one count of possession of dangerous ordnance, according to court records. He initially faced 13 counts, although three were dropped in March.

“The state acknowledged there were issues with this case, but at the end of the day, it’s the state’s position that Keith had guns he wasn’t allowed to have,” VanEerten said in reference to Blumensaadt and the standoff. “But given other ancillary issues, I didn’t see it as a wise choice to try the case.”


‘Police have us surrounded’

Blumensaadt was driving home from work on June 27, 2017, when former village police Officer El’Shawn Williams tried to pull him over.

By this point, Blumensaadt already accused the mayor of corruption. He was scheduled to meet with state investigators the following morning as part of a probe of Put-in-Bay’s government headed up by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Ohio Ethics Commission.

Blumensaadt allegedly refused to pull over. Upon entering his driveway, Officer Williams claimed Blumensaadt held a gun, which ignited the standoff. Multiple members of the island police department quickly converged on the home.

“House is surrounded,” he wrote in an email to the Register that night. “Put-in-Bay police have us surrounded in home.”

Blumensaadt maintained the belief police targeted him for bringing allegations against the mayor. When Officer Williams called for backup, his body camera recorded an image of his cellphone address book in which it appeared Blumensaadt was listed under the name “suspect Keith.”

While his home was surrounded, Blumensaadt called Sheriff Steve Levorchick and said he feared police would shoot him and his family, according to an incident report.

Levorchick arrived on the island and peacefully arrested him, ending the standoff.


Suppress the evidence

Police executed a search warrant on his home the following morning and discovered firearms, ammunition and explosives, according to the indictment.

Blumensaadt was indicted two days after the standoff on 13 charges in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court. The charges originated from the standoff and evidence investigators obtained during the search of his home.

A trial was set for that fall but was delayed after defense attorney Michael Lear filed a motion to suppress evidence. The defense said the search warrant of Blumensaadt’s home was improperly executed and argued evidence obtained during the raid should be excluded from the trial.

The state argued the opposite, and so a debate over the validity of the search warrant and the evidence it yielded went on for more than one year. After numerous hearings on the matter, the court ruled against the motion to suppress.

Meanwhile, the initial officer who tried to pull Blumensaadt over, El’Shawn Williams, was federally indicted, which called his credibility as a witness into question, Lear said. 

Williams was charged with deprivation of rights, falsifying a report and witness tampering for a 2017 incident involving another suspect, not Blumensaadt, in Put-in-Bay police custody.

But Williams was found not guilty of all charges after a federal trial in May.

“There was an overwhelming number of inconsistencies and hairsplitting on the government’s side of the case,” Williams’ defense attorney, Kevin Spellacy, told the Register in May

After Williams was acquitted, the path to Blumensaadt’s trial, which was rescheduled again for July 29, looked clearer.


The deal

VanEerten was unsuccessful in obtaining federal records in the case against Williams, which appeared to further delay Blumensaadt’s case. The federal government, for unknown reasons, wouldn’t turn over the files. 

“The trial for Keith was complicated by the fact that I couldn’t get those federal documents and further complicated by the additional issues created by the county drug task force,” VanEerten told the Register.

Members of the drug task force were part of the team that executed the search warrant on Blumensaadt’s home in June 2017.

Agents with the task force, which is overseen by VanEerten’s office, resigned this spring after an anonymous letter was sent to Port Clinton police Chief Rob Hickman alleging task force commander Carl Rider broke the law when he purchased a firearm in October 2018.

The allegations are still under investigation but the controversy was followed by the resignations Rider and agent Donald St. Clair. Another task force agent, Joel Barton, received a 30-day unpaid suspension following an administrative review.

“Given those complications, there could have been issues of availability for witnesses in Keith’s trial, meaning Keith would just sit longer,” VanEerten said of Blumensaadt’s case ending with a plea deal almost two years to the day after the standoff. 

“With those factors, and the fact Keith already served two years, we thought this was a just result at the end of the day,” VanEerten said.

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