Early tomorrow morning (probably somewhere between 9:00 AM and Noon) Stark Countians should know whether or not Stark County Treasurer Gary D. Zeigler shall continue in office, at least until his term expires on December 31, 2012.
Sitting by assignment of the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court (Stark County Common Pleas Judge Charles Brown having recused himself), Herman Frederick Inderlied, Jr., will hear a motion filed by Zeigler's attorney supporting the legal proposition that Zeigler is entitled to serve out his term under the law of Ohio.
If Inderlied denies the preliminary injunction, Stark County commissioners have scheduled a special meeting for tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM to ponder Zeigler's removal. Even if Judge Inderlied does not make a determination by 11:00 AM, commissioners can still act later in the day according to County Administrator Michael Hanke.
Nearly all Stark Countians know by now that the reason Zeigler's remaining in office is an issue is because of missing monies from the county treasurer (nearly $3 million) during Zeigler's time in office.
Ohio Revised Code Section (ORCS) 321.37 provides for county officials (either the commissioners or the county auditor) to make moves against the treasurer to recover the missing money. ORSC 321.38 allows, on the filing of the 321.37 action, permissively, to remove Zeigler and appoint a temporary replacement.
A special audit concluded on June 25th by Auditor of State Mary Taylor assigns $2.46 million of the missing money to a theft by former Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci (who has admitted same in Federal court).
Frustaci was successful in hiding his thefts from Taylor's auditors over a number of years of routine "financial" audits. Federal prosecutors say that during these audits that the Frustaci would be in Room A at the Stark County treasury ginning up fraudulent documents in response to inquiries for documents by state auditors in Room B. It was only in the latter half of March, 2009 when Frustaci was on vacation in Florida (and unable to keep one step ahead of the auditors) that his thievery became apparent.
Initially reports coming from Stark County Political Report sources indicated that only about $200,000 was missing. Hmm?
How was that?
Likely because the auditors got onto a couple of checks (a total of $230,000 - see below) made payable to FirstMeritBank (the ordered money was paid in cash to Frustaci) that Frustaci claimed he was using in working with law enforcement authorities to bring drug traffickers to justice.
In a statement issued by Zeigler's private legal counsel that had been prepared for a Zeigler meeting with county commissioners on July 14th, the SCPR interprets that he places the blame on FirstMerit Bank (implicitly exonerating Zeigler) for Frustaci's ability to make off with the money.
A reader of the SCPR asks questions that public officials, to The Report's knowledge have not answered, to wit:
Also, in reading the comments from the online Rep, many of us want to know who signed the checks made out to "cash" that Mr. Frustaci cashed atOne has to wonder why the county commissioners, Prosecutor Ferrero, Auditor Perez and other officials with the responsibility to get answers for the Stark County public have not done so. and hauled out of the bank? Since Mr. Perez is supposedly the only person who has authority to sign "warrants" or checks pursuant to ORC, who signed these checks? And, if Perez did not sign them, how is it that he never noticed that checks were made payable to cash? Did Perez sign them? Did someone give Mr. Frustaci a checkbook and add him as a signatory on the accounts? How did he balance his accounts and not question these two checks?
So how will the hearing go tomorrow?
Hard to say?
On the one hand it seems that Zeigler is an "elected" official and that absent some criminal wrongdoing by him (note: Zeigler has never been charged with any crime relative to the Frustaci matter nor has any public official even suggested such), it is difficult to see that a judge would intervene in the public accountability process (elections).
On the other hand, ORCS 321.37 and ORCS 321.38 are very clear that the county auditor/commissioners shall recover missing public funds from other public officials, and may remove a recovered-against official from office.
The SCPR has heard of lawyers' points of view in both directions.
Tomorrow's hearing will tell the tale!
However the judge rules, the SCPR believes that the losing side will appeal. Expect this drama to go on and on and on.
One final note. In another episode of political theater (the SC Dems plan to blame the Republicans?), Stark County Commissioner Todd Bosley landed on a State of Ohio Auditor representative who has been attending Stark County commissioner meeting over the last month or so.
Here is a video of Bosley asking the representative questions. The rep promised to get back with answers.
Hmm? Will he ever show up again?