Athens, Ohio, Sheriff Sent Immediately to Jail Following Corruption Conviction

by | February 13, 2015

By Mary Beth Lane

Suspended Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly was led away in handcuffs yesterday after a jury found him guilty of 18 crimes, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove revoked Kelly's bond. She said he needed to be incarcerated because he posed a flight risk and his conviction on the corrupt-activity charge, a first-degree felony, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Kelly, 64, could face even more prison time if the judge orders the sentences for his convictions to run consecutively. Cosgrove set sentencing for March 20.

Kelly's conviction automatically disqualifies him from being sheriff, a position that he said was his "heartbeat" and his lifelong dream.

Interim Sheriff Rodney Smith will remain in the post. He was appointed last year by county Democratic Party leaders after Kelly was placed on paid suspension from the $69,372-a-year job.

The jury in Athens County Common Pleas Court deliberated for about 16 hours over two days.

Jury members convicted Kelly of 18 counts from a 25-count indictment. He was convicted of 12 of 13 theft-in-office charges that he faced, and three of four theft charges. He also was convicted of perjury and failure to keep a cashbook.

The jury acquitted him of money laundering, tampering with evidence and tampering with records, and of the misdemeanor offenses of obstructing official business and dereliction of duty.

Cosgrove ordered a gag order to remain in place, so the attorneys did not comment after the verdicts.

Kelly's wife, Debra, mouthed "I love you" to him and pressed a tissue to her eyes as he was led away.

Jurors found that Kelly illegally pocketed the cash proceeds from eight sales of county vehicles and other metal items to a local salvage yard, with each transaction for less than $1,000. They also found he illegally converted campaign checks to his personal use in an amount of more than $1,000 and less than $7,500.

Kelly, a Democrat who was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, began to use the sheriff's office to misspend public money within months of being sworn into office in 2009, state special prosecutor Melissa A. Schiffel told jurors on Tuesday in her closing arguments.

"He was padding his pockets," she said.

Kelly testified during the trial that he used the scrap-sale and cash-box money to pay two confidential informants who were helping him investigate illegal drug activity and public corruption by county elected officials. He also defended spending public money on restaurant meals.

Kelly's attorney, Scott Wood, said in his closing arguments that the sheriff made record-keeping mistakes but didn't mean to.

"Although the sheriff is human, and he made mistakes, there was no criminal intent in anything he did, and as a result, he is not guilty of all these charges," Wood said.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch