November 26, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
32°F

Clerk of courts pleads no contest to misusing public funds

Medina County Clerk of Courts David Wadsworth entered a no contest plea to a charge of misuse of public funds in connection with his election campaign last fall.

At a hearing Wednesday, Medina Municipal Court Judge Dale Chase agreed to allow Wadsworth to enter the court’s first-time offender program, Alternative Paths.

David Wadsworth

According to the plea deal, if Wadsworth successfully finishes the program, the charge will be dismissed.

Failure to complete the program would result in a guilty finding, according to court documents signed by the judge.

Misuse of public funds is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The unusually quick disposition of the case — Wadsworth was summoned to court at 8:30 a.m., entered a plea and completed the paperwork for the diversion program in less than 1½ hours — abruptly ended an investigation that began more than nine months ago.

Municipal Clerk of Courts Nancy Abbott said she did not know about the case until Wednesday morning.

“This morning we received the charge; until then, I knew nothing about it,” she said.

According to court documents, Wadsworth entered a plea of no contest to the charge of “knowingly conducting a direct or indirect transaction of public funds to the benefit of one of the following: a campaign committee, a campaign fund and/or a candidate.”

The summons issued to Wadsworth by the Medina County Sheriff’s Office stated that he committed the offense on Aug. 3, 2012. Wadsworth, a Republican, won election in November. He had been appointed clerk of courts in 2011 to succeed Kathy E. Fortney, who retired.

In a statement released by his attorney, Wadsworth said he was not aware one of his employees had been doing campaign work while on taxpayers’ time and using county equipment.

Wadsworth said the employee printed campaign fliers on a printer in the clerk’s office during work hours.

“I made a mistake in not supervising a campaign volunteer who was also a Medina County employee,” Wadsworth said in the statement.

Wadsworth said the Ross County sheriff’s investigation determined there was a minimal use of ink from a state-owned printer and minimal time spent by the employee who printed the campaign announcement.

“I did not learn of this conduct until after it occurred,” he said in the statement. “I sincerely regret any embarrassment I have caused the Medina County Clerk of Court’s Office and the dedicated employees who work in that office. I take full responsibility for my actions and I again apologize. I will ensure that nothing like this occurs in the future.”

In court Wednesday, Wadsworth waived his right to a jury trial as part of a plea agreement between visiting special Prosecutor Kevin Baxter and Wadsworth and his attorney, John McCaffrey.

Baxter, Erie County’s prosecutor, was appointed last fall after Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman recused himself from the investigation.

According to Sgt. Kevin Ross of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, the summons and arraignment were coordinated between the sheriff’s office, Baxter and McCaffrey. He said the summons, officially charging Wadsworth with a crime, was served to Wadsworth on Wednesday morning, immediately before the arraignment hearing.

“(Baxter) had conversations with Wadsworth’s attorney and we agreed to meet today and serve him with the complaint and then he pled no contest at the hearing,” Ross said Wednesday.

In July, The Gazette requested documents detailing how the special prosecutor had been appointed to investigate Wadsworth, but that request was denied. A letter from Holman stated all documents concerning the case were exempt from disclosure because it “would be subject to grand jury secrecy.”

Grand juries normally handle only felony cases. A felony charge would have prevented Wadsworth from holding a public office anywhere in the state.

Baxter did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Ross said the Sheriff’s Office had been conducting the investigation into Wadsworth’s campaign since just after the November election.

Allegations that Wadsworth was using county equipment and employees in his election campaign were brought to Holman by former Clerk of Courts Chief Deputy Julie Kauffman, who was fired in February.

Kauffman sued Wadsworth in federal court in June, alleging that Wadsworth fired her for going to the prosecutor. In the suit, she accused him of using clerk’s office materials in his campaign, pressuring his workers to vote for him, keeping a map of yard signs in his office and filming a political advertisement there.

Ross said the Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation in conjunction with visiting prosecutor Baxter because Holman recused himself from the case.

“We started our investigation in 2012 in reference to Mr. Wadsworth using county employees and equipment to assist him with his campaign while they were on county time,” Ross said.

It is unclear how long Wadsworth will be in the diversion program, which can last from six months to a year, according to Alternative Paths’ website.
“During that time the offender meets with the diversion services staff for an initial screening, followed by individual, or group counseling sessions,” according to the website’s description of the program. “The offender will develop goals related to life issues, which contributed to the offender’s crime.”

Those accepted into the program are required to pay a $550 fee.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

NOTE: In a previous version of this story, The Gazette inaccurately reported Medina County Clerk of Courts David Wadsworth was convicted of misusing public funds. The story above has been edited to reflect accurate information.