News-Herald Staff Writer
CADIZ- Another department could be targeted for a state investigation following the indictment and resignation of Harrison County Treasurer George Campbell.
Campbell, 74, of 107 Jones Ave., Cadiz, was indicted by a grand jury April 8 on two counts including fourth-degree felony theft and third-degree felony theft in office. He is accused of cashing 18 checks totaling more than $5,400 at his county office during 2010, and if convicted could face more than six years behind bars. Campbell submitted his resignation to county commissioners on April 6 and it was accepted on Monday during a special session. Deputy Treasurer Vicki Sefsick was named interim treasurer until the Democratic Central Committee appoints a replacement at its next meeting next Monday at 7 p.m. in the Cadiz Village Council room.
Sefsick told the News-Herald she was requesting an audit through the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation for further review. She also planned to carry on duties of the office to the best of her ability.
“I’m just going to continue running the office as it has been,” she said.
Meanwhile, it would mark the third office to be investigated by BCI&I this year, with a former juvenile/probate court clerk and the dog pound currently under separate reviews by the agency.
Special Prosecutor Steven Barnett was appointed to handle several of the latest indictments due to conflict in the local prosecutor’s office, while county Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Nunner recused himself from hearing the case and asked the Ohio Supreme Court to name a visiting judge in his place. Campbell’s arraignment is set for April 19 at 10 a.m.
Officials claimed the crime involved money taken from the Cadiz Volunteer Fire Department, where Campbell has served as its treasurer since 1972. Fire Chief Leonard Merryman would not confirm whether Campbell was suspended from the department as it had been reported and did not want to comment on the investigation, for now.
“We believe that while in his capacity as treasurer for the Cadiz Fire Department, Mr. Campbell [wrote] checks to himself that were not authorized by the fire department,” said Barnett. “It was a continuing course of conduct [between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010] and 18 checks were written.”
A discrepancy was allegedly noticed at the fire department, after which leaders notified the village police department to investigate. The theft in office charge stems from Campbell reportedly cashing the fire department’s checks at the county treasurer’s office. Penalties range from six to 18 months in prison for theft to one to five years for theft in office, meaning he could face a maximum of six years and six months in prison if convicted.
Commissioners received Campbell’s resignation letter the same day the grand jury met, but did not take action until the following Monday. Additionally, they named Sefsick, an eight-year employee of the treasurer’s office, to temporarily replace him in the post and she was sworn in later that day. In her letter, Sefsick said she was knowledgeable of daily functions and understood responsibilities of the office.
“It’s important that we keep the treasurer’s office running as smoothly as possible,” said Commissioner Don Bethel. “Vicki being there [makes it easier].”
He added the indictment was a blow to the community.
“While everyone needs to be responsible for their own actions, it’s unfortunate that other people will be touched by this,” Bethel commented. “I truly feel for his family and loved ones. Somewhere along the path of serving the public, [I believe] he lost his way.”
Campbell has served the county since 1989, when he succeeded Mike Cope in the position. It is not the first time he has left the office; He resigned in August of 2007 to collect his Public Employees Retirement Service pension and was re-appointed that September by the county Democratic Central Committee. The move allowed him to continue working while simultaneously collecting his retirement benefits. At that time, Lou Ann Dyer was appointed to fill in until his return.
Sherri Farkas-Van Tassel, chairperson of the DCC, said under the Ohio Revised Code, the committee can appoint a replacement to complete Campbell’s unexpired term, which it will do on April 18.
“At this point, I understand he has been charged, but with this [judicial] system he is presumed innocent otherwise,” she said. “I think it’s a difficult situation for everybody.”