Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns has agreed to resign as part of a negotiated non-prosecution agreement to avoid being charged with three felony counts of theft in office.
The agreement was announced Wednesday in a news release from Columbus-based attorneys Mark R. Weaver and Ryan M. Stubenrauch, who have been acting as a Williams County special prosecutor and assistant special prosecutor, respectively. Towns’ resignation, per the agreement, is effective March 17.
The charges are in addition to Towns’ conviction in November 2019 on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of public dissemination online of confidential information related to a child abuse case. He remains on probation in that misdemeanor case, with 180 days of jail time suspended.
The first-degree misdemeanor conviction — prosecuted by Weaver and Stubenrauch — had precluded Towns from running in the March 17 primary election.
Weaver said the three felony charges arose when Towns filed an appeal following his November misdemeanor conviction.
“Such an appeal requires the defendant to pay a court reporter to type up and prepare a transcript of the entire trial, to be sent to the appeals court. The prosecutors, aided by agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), uncovered evidence that Towns submitted the invoice for the creation of this transcript to county officials, for payment by taxpayers. Such a payment is improper and constitutes fourth-degree felony theft in office,” Weaver’s release said.
In addition, Weaver said prosecutors and investigators also determined that Towns improperly directed Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Ruskey to attend and assist at Towns’ criminal trial in November, as well as Towns’ board of elections hearing on Jan. 14.
“The deputy was paid for the hours he attended those proceedings, despite the fact there was no official government purpose for the deputy to be present. Both of those instances constituted fourth-degree (felony) theft in office, since the money paid to the deputy was used for the personal benefit of Towns,” Weaver said.
As part of the agreement, Towns will not be prosecuted on the felony charges. In return, Towns agrees to resign from office effective March 17, repay $2,349.28 in allegedly misspent taxpayer monies from his own personal funds for the cost of the transcript and the deputy hours, and forfeit his state certification that allows him to serve as a law enforcement officer.
“In addition, he agrees not to seek employment within the state of Ohio at any law enforcement agency or any detention facility such as a jail or prison,” Weaver said.
“Rather than expend even more taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources to prosecute him, we’ve decided that this agreement is a better outcome for the community and for Mr. Towns,” Weaver said.
He added that if Towns violates the terms of the agreement in any way, the special prosecutors will immediately charge Towns with the three felonies and any other appropriate charges.
“There has been far too much chaos in and around the Williams County Sheriff’s Office and this agreement will allow the county and the dedicated employees of that agency to move beyond it,” Stubenrauch said in the release.
Reached Wednesday, Towns declined comment and referred all questions to attorney Hank Schaefer, of Toledo-based Groth & Associates.
Towns took office as sheriff in January 2012.
Weaver said he had been brought in by Williams County Prosecutor Katie Zartman and was the special prosecutor in March 2019 when Williams County sheriff’s deputy Mick Frisbie was indicted by a Williams County grand jury on a fifth-degree felony charge of perjury.
The charge stemmed from alleged “conflicting” comments Frisbie made in regard to the officer-involved shooting death of John Anderson by Village of Edon Police Chief Thomas Szymczak in June 2016 at Anderson’s home on U.S. 20 outside of Montpelier.
Szymczak was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a Williams County grand jury in November 2016.
Frisbie died in May 2019.
Zartman has said she recused herself to avoid the appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest.
Weaver said he has no interest in further prosecution of anyone else involved in the felony case, and he considers the case closed if Towns follows the requirements of the agreement.
“I have no plans to seek further charges regarding the misuse of time. We held Towns accountable for that, he will repay taxpayers for that, so we consider that issue resolved,” Weaver said.
“Our job was to provide accountability and ensure that public officials are acting within the law and not abusing the public trust,” Weaver said.