Bill to Toughen Penalties for Theft in Office Approved by Senate
Columbus – Legislation that would stiffen the penalties for public employees convicted of theft in office and alleviate some of the financial burden for their victims was approved today by the Ohio Senate in a unanimous vote.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, and requested by Auditor of State Dave Yost, would establish first- and second-degree felony offense levels for theft in office charges, mirroring the existing statute for the separate charge of theft.
Current law limits theft in office to a third-degree felony, carrying a sentence of between nine months and three years in prison. Accordingly, a public official or employee convicted of stealing any amount over $150,000 – even millions – faces the same penalties as someone who steals $7,500.
“The punishment should fit the crime, and Sen. Wilson’s bill corrects a weakness in the law that treats a $7,500 thief the same as a million-dollar thief,” Auditor Yost said. “The bigger the crime, the harsher the time.”
Under the proposal, a theft of between $150,000 and $750,000 would fall into a second-degree felony threshold punishable by two to eight years in prison. Any theft of more than $750,000 would merit a first-degree felony holding a sentence of three to 11 years in prison.
The bill also addresses the costs local governments pay for forensic audits – examinations that measure the extent of a theft. For the most part, the law prevents judges from ordering offenders to reimburse entities for the audit costs, which sometimes outweigh the losses from the theft itself.
S.B. 268 would add language to the theft in office statute permitting courts to include the costs of an audit in a restitution order when the victim is a public entity. A companion bill, introduced by Rep. Robert Cupp, R-Lima, is pending in the Ohio House.
More information on the bill is available here.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.