Case review: Dover’s longtime mayor convicted of theft in office
NEW PHILADELPHIA (November 16, 2022) – The verdict is in in the trial of suspended Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen.
Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Thomakos read it:
“The verdict of the jury for count one reads, ‘We the jury find the defendant, Richard P. Homrighausen, guilty of theft in office.'”
The six-man, six-woman jury found Homrighausen guilty on six counts: one count of theft in office, four counts of soliciting improper compensation, and one count of dereliction of duty.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17.
The solicitation and dereliction charges are misdemeanors, but theft in office is a fifth-degree felony. State Prosecutor Robert Smith says that conviction ends Homrighausen’s time as mayor once sentencing is final.
“He’s barred for life from ever serving as a public official,” Smith said.
Smith said he respects the jury’s verdict and is satisfied with the result.
Homrighausen’s attorney Mark DeVan said he had no comment. He said they will consider appealing.
Prosecutors were pursuing a third-degree felony conviction, which would have taken away Homrighausen’s pension. The jury bumping down the felony level to five means Homrighausen keeps it.
Jurors found Homrighausen guilty of theft of less than $1,000 for pocketing wedding fees instead of depositing them into the city’s treasury. Prosecutors had accused Homrighausen of stealing more than $9,000 dollars.
Smith says his office will pursue recovery of that amount from Homrighausen.
He also discussed the potential punishment for the conviction, which could include as much as $7,250 in fines and possible but not likely prison time.
“The sentencing range is six months to 12 months. Of course, probation is frequent in the case of a fifth-degree felony. (It) is normal. All misdemeanor sentences merge with felonies, so it would be the six to 12 months is the ceiling, but that of course is strictly up to the judge,” Smith said.
The jury found Homrighausen not guilty on one other count: unlawful interest in a public contract. That charge had to do with his involvement in hiring his son.
DeVan had argued that everyone in the city knew that Homrighausen’s son worked for the city, and no one objected to the mayor’s actions or advised him they were potentially illegal. He specifically accused Law Director Doug O’Meara of failing to advise the mayor.
What’s next with the mayor’s office?
Interim Mayor Shane Gunnoe will continue to serve through Homrighausen’s paid suspension, which continues through his Jan. 17 sentencing.
The city could sue Homrighausen to get the money back it paid him during the suspension.
Once Homrighausen’s sentence is final, Gunnoe’s interim term ends, and City Council President Justin Perkowski will serve as acting mayor until the Republican Central Committee appoints a temporary mayor to finish the term that concludes at the end of 2023.
Gunnoe thanked the prosecutors.
“I’m glad to see that justice was served for the people of the city of Dover. It’s been a tremendously difficult process for everybody that’s been involved with the city,” Gunnoe said.
Both sides rest their cases
DAY 3 – Nov. 15, 2022
Both sides rested their cases after witness testimony. Homrighausen’s attorneys called just one witness, the marriage license and adoption clerk for the Summit County Probate Court. She testified about how she received fees for marriage licenses from Dover. Homrighausen did not testify in his own defense.
The prosecution rested its case first, after testimony from their final witnesses, including City Power Plant Superintendent Jason Hall and Service Director Dave Douglas. They testified about Homrighausen’s involvement in his son’s employment with the city.
Prosecutors say Homrighausen should not have been involved in hiring his son, Peter, or in a grievance filed by Peter against the city.
Hall testified the mayor handed in his son’s application for a job at the power plant and said, “Would this guy work down there?”
Homrighausen’s attorney Mark DeVan asked Hall if the mayor explicitly told him to hire his son. Hall said no, but later testified the mayor didn’t need to say it for him to get the message.
DeVan objected several times during both witnesses’ testimony, particularly when prosecutor Robert Smith asked about Peter Homrighausen’s pre-employment polygraph test.
In pre-trial hearings, Smith had said the admissions in that polygraph test would have disqualified any candidate other than the mayor’s son. DeVan’s objections kept the jury from seeing or hearing the polygraph results.
After the testimony with the jury out of the room, Homrighausen’s attorneys asked Judge Elizabeth Thomakos to take the case out of the jury’s hands, issue a full acquittal of all charges, and dismiss the indictment.
They said city officials didn’t object to Homrighausen’s actions for years or advise him his actions could be improper.
Prosecutor Robert Smith rebutted by saying ignorance of the law is no defense and the issues should have been raised pretrial.
Judge Elizabeth Thomakos agreed to acquit Homrighausen on two of nine counts, but left the most serious count – third-degree felony theft in office – on the table for jurors.
The seven counts that remained included a nepotism charge, theft in office, dereliction of duty, and four misdemeanors related to collecting wedding payments.
In closing statements, Prosecutors Samuel Kirk and Robert Smith said Homrighausen illegally pocketed wedding fees that should have gone to the city and illegally helped get his son a job with the city.
“The general assembly in Ohio pass laws that govern public officials, including that they can’t solicit or accept additional compensation for doing their official duties. They can’t use their influence to help their son get hired,” Kirk said.
“As a public official, it is his duty to know the law that applies to him. It was not up to anybody else to tell him he was breaking the law. We are all presumed to know the law, and ignorance of the law is no defense,” Smith said.
Homrighausen’s Attorney Mark DeVan said everybody in City Hall knew what Homrighausen was doing and never objected or told him it was wrong. He said Homrighausen conducted weddings in the open.
“These are not the actions of a man who is trying to steal from someone. Those are the actions of a man who doesn’t know he’s not supposed to do this,” DeVan said.
He accused city Law Director Doug O’Meara of orchestrating the investigation of Homrighausen. He called O’Meara a puppet master who manipulated witnesses.
“He waited until the pandemic. He waited until this man was ill. And then what did he do? He smelled blood in the water,” DeVan said.
“O’Meara wanted to make sure all his ducks were in a row to try to bury the mayor.”
“The puppet master. Right there. O’Meara. He led the charge. He told people what they had to say, and that’s why we’re here today.”
The jury only deliberated for a few minutes Tuesday before Thomakos sent them home at 4:30. They were to resume Wednesday morning.
DAY 2 – Nov. 10, 2022
Witness testimony continued Thursday.
Homrighausen’s one-time Executive Assistant Eva Newsome testified in the morning. She answered questions about how she and the mayor collected payments for weddings.
She said there was a fee schedule in the office, ranging from $35 for a weekday wedding at City Hall to $175 for a holiday wedding.
Homrighausen’s Attorney Mark DeVan is trying to establish the payments were customary gratuities, and Homrighausen did nothing unlawful. He said it was a common practice that everyone knew about, including Newsome. He questioned her on the stand.
“If at any time you had thought that any of this was wrong or criminal, you would not have accepted or participated in the scheduling of weddings or and the receipt of money, would you?” DeVan asked. “Right,” Newsome answered.
Prosecutors used Newsome’s testimony to attempt to establish the payments were a set fees paid before weddings that should have been deposited in the city’s treasury.
“So this couple did pay a fee, according to the fee schedule, but they also paid a tip of $20 on top of it, and so fee and tip, two different things here,” Prosecutor Samuel Kirk said to Newsome. “That is correct,” she replied.
Witness testimony continued into the afternoon, with Senior Forensic Auditor Melissa Barnett from the State Auditor’s Office, along with Dover Law Director Doug O’Meara and Auditor Nicole Stoldt.
The afternoon testimony was full of objections as the two elected city officials took the witness stands. Stoldt, when questioned by Kirk, testified she knew the mayor conducted weddings but not that he was getting paid.
“Were you ever aware of wedding fees being charged in the city of Dover?” Kirk asked. “I was not,” Stoldt replied.
Homrighausen’s attorney Mark DeVan has said Stoldt and O’Meara should have advised they mayor or questioned his practices before a city council investigation in 2021.
“At no time did you say, ‘What’s up with these weddings?'” DeVan said to Stoldt.
DeVan frequently objected during their testimonies. He clashed with O’Meara when questioning him about the mayor’s son. O’Meara did not offer concise answers when DeVan demanded an answer of “yes” or “no.”
“Well you know, we could stay here until the cows come home, but let’s move on, Mr. O’Meara, since I’m answering the questions, you answer them, got it?” DeVan said to O’Meara.
“We’re going to have to do it the hard way, Mr. O’Meara. We’ll do it the hard way,” DeVan said. “OK,” O’Meara responded.
Judge Elizabeth Thomakos scolded them both.
“I would just ask if both of you could be less contentious, and let’s get through the facts that the jury needs to hear,” she said.
The trial recessed Thursday afternoon until Tuesday morning. The courthouse was closed that Friday for Veterans Day, and Monday the court was busy with other cases.
Observers were predicting a long trial as more than a dozen people who received subpoenas hadn’t testified yet.
The trial begins
DAY 1 – Nov. 9, 2022
The trial of longtime Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen started at 1 p.m. Wednesday in front of a jury of six men and six women in the courtroom of Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Thomakos.
Homrighausen had pleaded not guilty to nine counts in a grand jury indictment including theft in office and nepotism charges.
In opening statements, state prosecutor Robert Smith accused Homrighausen of pocketing wedding fees instead of depositing them in the city treasury.
“In short, the allegation is he took over $7,500 in funds that he received performing the weddings as mayor. His compensation did not include that. He was not allowed the take that. He’s required by state law to deposit it, and instead he kept the money, and that’s what’s alleged as the theft in office.”
Smith outlined his evidence.
“You’re going to see documents of some of these weddings. They’re all on city letterhead. They’re all used with city paper. They were all printed up with the city copiers. So everything that was done for was done, as the state believes the evidence will show, in his capacity as mayor on the city’s time and on the city’s dime.”
Homrighausen’s attorney Mark DeVan said Homrighausen’s actions were accepted without objection by other city officials until recently when the mayor was in poor health during the pandemic.
“It was then that the mayor’s enemies struck and took advantage of the situation here.”
“He never hid any of this. It shows that he had no intent to commit a crime. He did not know any of this was illegal or could be illegal. And the people who should have said something to him, those with legal training, looked the other way until it was to their advantage to come down on him and try to ruin his life.”
Witness testimony starts
Interim Mayor Shane Gunnoe was the first witness to testify. He testified about paying Homrighausen $90 to conduct his wedding. Several questions focused on whether the wedding payment was a fee to a city official or a traditional gratuity or tip. Gunnoe also answered questions about his relationship with Homrighausen. DeVan had him identify people in a New Year’s Eve/swearing in party photo from 2015 at Homrighausen’s home, including Homrighausen’s son and city Law Director Doug O’Meara.
Two other witnesses testified they paid Homrighausen to officiate their wedding ceremonies.
Dover Mayor Executive Assistant Eva Newsome began her testimony about how she and the mayor handled wedding payments. It continued the next day, with Newsome on the stand about three hours total.