'Hubris.' Former Butler County auditor sentenced to 30 days in jail, $5,000 fine

Roger Reynolds, former Butler County auditor, gets emotional as he talks for the first time in court during this sentencing on a fourth degree felony for unlawful interest in a public contract.

HAMILTON, Ohio – Former Butler County auditor Roger Reynolds will spend 30 days in the county jail and pay a fine of $5,000, a judge ordered Friday.

Reynolds grew emotional at Friday's hearing as he spoke about the impact of his trial.

“It’s unbelievable. It hurt and hurt everyone around me," he said, acknowledging he had "made mistakes."

Reynolds was convicted of one count of unlawful interest in a public contract, a fourth-degree felony, in December. Prosecutors said Reynolds used his influence as auditor when he suggested Lakota Local School District officials use the money the auditor's office returned to the district to build a private golf academy at Four Bridges Country Club.

“While I am disappointed in this sentence, I am gratified that the court recognized this abuse of public trust warrants at least some jail time,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a press release on Friday.

Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan of Franklin County said Reynolds will also serve five years of community control with basic supervision. He will need to maintain full-time employment or complete 100 hours of community service.

Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan listens to Roger Reynolds, former Butler County auditor, speak. Hogan sentenced Reynolds to five years community control, $5,000 fine and 30 days in jail that will have to be completed over the five years. He also has to pay court costs.

Judge: Look up the word 'hubris'

It's illegal for a public official to authorize or influence a public contract that either the official, a family member or a business associate has an interest in. Reynolds was a member of the country club and his daughter played for the high school golf team at the time.

"Beyond some wasted time, perhaps, there's no harm here," Hogan said. "There's no victim – other than everybody in the county that trusted the auditor."

Hogan told Reynolds to look up the word "hubris." In explaining his sentencing decision, Hogan said he was once advised that "prison should be reserved for people we are afraid of, not for people we are displeased with."

He said he hopes the 30 days in county jail will be a deterrent to other public officials in Ohio.

Reynolds, a Republican, could have been sentenced to up to a year and a half in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The Ohio sentencing guidelines mandate "community control sanctions" like house arrest or community service for a nonviolent fourth-degree felony without a prior felony conviction. However, the judge can impose prison time if the offense is related to a public office.

Brad Tammaro, prosecutor for the Ohio Attorney General, argued for prison time during the sentencing of Roger Reynolds.

Prosecutor Brad Tammaro with the Ohio Attorney General's Office said Reynolds' actions were a betrayal of the trust and respect inherent in the county auditor's office. Tammaro said a fine would essentially be meaningless to a person in Reynolds’ position and community control sanctions would be demeaning to the crime committed.

Reynolds' attorney Chad Ziepfel argued that there was "no contract, no money lost and nothing gained by Reynolds" as a result of the meetings with Lakota School officials and the people with the Four Bridges Country Club.

“Nothing ever actually happened here. It was an idea that never went anywhere," Ziepfel said.

What Roger Reynolds told the court

Reynolds also addressed the court for the first time. He said he should have sought an ethics opinion with the county prosecutor's office.

“I'm here because I made mistakes and at no point have I tried to be dismissive or put that blame on anyone else,” he said.

Reynolds grew emotional when he told the judge about his intentions with the private golf academy.

Reynolds said he was not looking to benefit his kids or himself in any way and that he just wanted other kids to have what his daughters had. He said he wanted the girls’ team to have the same opportunity as the boys’ team to use the Four Bridges Country Club facilities. He added that he wanted girls to be involved in golf to be able to network later on in their careers.

Hogan said he received more letters in this case than "any other case that comes to mind" and that he wasn't sure what to think of them. He referenced the many letters from neighbors, family and former employees that described Reynolds as a good auditor and good citizen.

"There were three or four letters that painted a completely different picture of you," Hogan told Reynolds.

One letter, from the son of the former Butler County auditor Kay Rogers, asked for a harsh penalty.

Rogers, the auditor before Reynolds, pled guilty to bank and mail fraud and resigned in 2008. In his letter, her son said Reynolds sought revenge after Rogers defeated him in the 2006 Republican primary and he urged Hogan to sentence Reynolds to the maximum amount of prison time.

Reynolds re-elected, despite indictment

Another letter from a Butler County resident said corruption should not be tolerated and asked for a 14-18 month prison sentence.

Despite Reynolds' indictment, the Butler County Republican Party endorsed him in the November 2022 election. He won with 64% of the vote in the reliably Republican county.

Reynolds first took office in 2008, when the party appointed him to replace Rogers.

After Reynolds was convicted, the Butler County Board of Commissioners decided the seat was vacant and appointed a temporary replacement in December.

The party appointed Nancy Nix, who previously served as the county's treasurer, in February to replace Reynolds.

Reynolds also faces a civil lawsuit related to some of the charges in his criminal trial. That jury trial is scheduled to begin in October.

Erin Glynn is the watchdog reporter for Butler, Warren and Clermont counties through the Report For America program. The Enquirer needs local donors to help fund her grant-funded position. If you want to support Glynn's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at this website or email her editor Carl Weiser at cweiser@enquirer.com to find out how you can help fund her work. 

Do you know something she should know? Send her a note at eglynn@enquirer.com and follow her on Twitter at @ee_glynn

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: SW Ohio county auditor gets 30 days in jail for corruption charge