A Ross County, Ohio deputy sheriff, and a police officer have profited hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contracts from the safety forces he serves.
Gary Hall, a deputy sheriff and police officer and owner of Downtown Auto Body and Ernie’s Salvage, on Eastern Avenue in Chillicothe. Both places are known to locals as a place where one can get their car mechanically repaired, their car’s bodywork fixed, and also sell their junk cars.
However, to the Ross County Sheriff’s office and the Chillicothe Police Department, the businesses are the go-to service shop for work on their cruisers. You might not think that is an issue, but the Ohio Ethics Commission says that the transactions are highly illegal.
Hall, who has been with the Sheriff’s office as a deputy since 2009 and holds a second position with the Chillicothe Police Department since the same year, has received more than $160,000 from the city in illegal no-bid contracts for repairs to police cruisers. At the same time, Hall’s has raked in nearly $220,000 from the county Sheriff’s office, for a total of more than $380,000 over the course of the last decade.
When the Guardian stopped by Downtown Auto on Wednesday, three Sheriff cruisers were seen sitting on the lot waiting to be repaired.
Even though Hall is an uncompensated auxiliary deputy and officer for both departments, the Ohio Ethics Commission has said that auxiliary police officers have a fiduciary responsibility to the agencies they serve and cannot receive business from them because they are “agents” of the forces for which they belong.
Calls to Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney’s office, along with emails to the city’s safety director Jeff Carmen from the Guardian seeking comment for this story went unreturned. The Guardian also reached out to Sheriff George Lavender and Captain Mike Preston with the Sheriff’s office, who refused to comment on the story.
The only public official to reply to the Guardian’s request for comment was county Auditor Tom Spetnagel, Jr. While Spetnagel’s office does not directly approve the expenditures for the Sheriff’s office, his office is responsible for signing and mailing the checks.
“As Auditor for Ross County, my office issues checks for invoices presented to us by each of the county’s departments — including the Sheriff’s office — and we attempt to ensure that they are made for a ‘proper public purpose’”, Spetnagel told the Guardian on Wednesday. “I take this responsibility very seriously. Having said that, I do not have any record of a Gary Hall in our payroll system, so he has never been paid for any work done at the Sheriff’s Office. I was also unaware until speaking with you that Mr. Hall is or was the owner of Downtown Body/Ernie’s Salvage.”
Spetnagel went on to say that he has been told the matter is being reviewed by state investigators.
“My understanding is that this matter has been referred to the Ethics Commission for investigation. Although our office has no knowledge of a conflict of interest, I do want it to be investigated. Tax dollars should never be misspent, nor should there be any question as to payments issued by Ross County.”
The executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, who investigates public officials accused of financial crimes, told the Guardian in a previous interview that such allegations, if true, constitute criminal violations of unlawful interest in public contracts and conflict of interest. While there are some exceptions in the unlawful interest law that could allow a police officer to launch into business with the department they represent, the “conflict of interest” law would still prohibit such business from taking place.
Without speaking directly to the allegations lodged against Hall, director Paul Nick said that such allegations, if true, could be illegal, even if Hall was the cheapest in town
“The ethics statute that prohibits having an unlawful interest in a public contract applies to any elected or appointed officer or employee, or an agent of the state or any political subdivision, including a city,” Nick said.
Nick said the violations could be first degree misdemeanors or even felonies, depending on the severity.
Gary Hall could not be reached for comment.