NEW PHILADELPHIA ‒ A jury has convicted suspended Dover Mayor Richard P. Homrighausen of theft in office and five other criminal charges.
The panel of six men and six women returned the verdict around noon Wednesday in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court following a morning of deliberations.
They found the eight-term mayor guilty of four counts of soliciting improper compensation for taking fees for performing four wedding ceremonies. He was also convicted of dereliction of duty for failing to deposit the payments in the city treasury.
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He was acquitted of having an unlawful interest in a public contract, a charge related to the 2013 hiring of his son, Peter, at the city light plant.
The theft in office conviction bars Homrighausen from holding public office for life. Convictions for soliciting improper compensation carry a seven-year ban. His trial began Nov. 8.
Homrighausen will be barred from office once he is sentenced, according to Special Prosecutor Robert F. Smith of the Ohio Auditor's Office.
Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos scheduled sentencing for Jan. 17. She ordered a background investigation to be completed before sentencing. His potential sentence wasn't immediately available.
What about repayments and Homrighausen's pension?
The jury made an additional finding on the theft-in-office charge. They said the value was less than $1,000, which apparently referred to the fees for the four weddings in the charges of soliciting improper compensation.
He was originally charged with taking $9,295 in fees for 231 weddings.
The lower dollar amount means that Homrighausen, 74, can keep his state pension, Smith said. The higher amount would have made the charge a third-degree felony. The lower amount makes the charge a lesser felony of the fifth degree.
Smith said the auditor's office will make a civil finding for recovery to recoup the entire $9,295, minus any restitution ordered by the judge. He said his office will ask the judge to have Homrighausen reimburse the state for the $3,956 cost of the special audit that led to the criminal charges.
He said Dover has the right to try to recoup the portion of the mayor's $100,542 salary that Homrighausen has been paid since his suspension May 4.
Homrighausen trial charges outlined
Homrighausen was indicted on 15 counts in March. The prosecution dropped six tax charges in July. On Tuesday, Thomakos acquitted Homrighausen on two criminal charges.
She found Homrighausen not guilty of one count of dereliction of duty for failure to deposit fees collected for wedding ceremonies between Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 4, 2021.
She said the section of Ohio law cited in the charge does not apply to cities like Dover, which is organized under state law, as opposed to a charter city, which is organized under locally adopted rules.
The judge also found Homrighausen not guilty of a charge of representation by a public official. The charge arose from Homrighausen participating in, and ruling on, an overtime grievance filed by his son, who was a city light plant employee, on Feb. 21, 2016. Thomakos ruled there wasn't enough evidence to convict Homrighausen.
Homrighausen denied the request by his son and two other employees of the Dover Light Plant to be paid for overtime hours they had not worked in 2015. The employees claimed they were entitled to compensation because they were not given an equal opportunity to work extra hours.
Homrighausen trial reaction
Smith said he was satisfied with the verdicts.
"I always respect the jury's decision," he said. "They heard the evidence. They heard the law. They have the hardest job of any of us, and that is making their decision, so I respect their verdict completely."
Smith said he expects an appeal.
Defense attorney Mark R. DeVan did not say whether his client would appeal.
Dover's Interim Mayor Shane Gunnoe said he was "incredibly grateful to the state for their diligent review and prosecution of the matter. I'm relieved that justice has been served for the people of the city of Dover. I'm also grateful to our employees and all of those witnesses who testified to what they knew, before the state, the defense and the jury. Most importantly, I'm glad for the people of the city of Dover that we finally have some resolution to this matter."
Gunnoe said the law provides for him to continue as interim mayor only until Homrighausen is removed. At that time, the office would become vacant. Council President Justin Perkowski would then become acting mayor. Dover members of the Republican Central Committee would then select someone to fulfill the remainder of the four-year term, which ends Dec. 31, 2023.
Jurors began deliberating in Homrighausen's case late Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.
A recap of closing arguments and final testimony
In closing arguments, DeVan said Homrighausen did not tell anyone to hire his son, but merely asked light plant supervisors, "Do you think this guy will work?" while presenting them with his resume.
He blamed Dover Law Director Douglas O'Meara, who he dubbed a "puppet master" who controlled other witnesses who testified against Homrighausen. He said O'Meara should have told Homrighausen not to perform the acts that led to the criminal charges.
DeVan characterized testimony from the mayor's administrative assistant, Eva Newsome, as a "story" she created because she did not particularly like her job or her boss.
Newsome, who now works for Gunnoe, explained how she made arrangements for the weddings Homrighausen conducted while at her City Hall job.
In their closing arguments, special prosectors from the Ohio Auditor's Office said that it was not illegal for Peter Homrighausen to work for the city or for his father to perform weddings as mayor.
Special Prosecutor Samuel J. Kirk said the problem with Peter's hiring was his father's involvement in the process. He said it would have been legal for Peter to apply and go through civil service like other applicants.
"The mayor of Dover jumped the line for his son," Kirk said.
As for the wedding fees, he said, the problem was that the mayor kept the money instead of depositing it in the city treasury.
Kirk disputed the defense contention that someone should have told the mayor to give the fees to the city.
"Do you have to remind somebody that is robbing a bank that they're not allowed to do that?" Kirk asked.
Closing arguments followed testimony from Jason Hall, superintendent of Dover Light & Power, who said he felt pressured to hire Peter Homrighausen after receiving his resume from his father.
Service Director David Douglas said he thought he would have been fired if he had not agreed to Peter's hiring.
Both Douglas and Hall said the mayor made the final decisions about hiring.
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This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Jury convicts Richard Homrighausen of theft in office, other charges