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Special Audit Details Investigation into Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools Officials’ Use of Public Funds to Support Levy Campaign
For Immediate Release
COLUMBUS – The Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) released a final report Thursday on its investigation into Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District officials’ use of public funds to support a levy campaign.
Copies of the special audit, which led to multiple criminal convictions and findings for recovery totaling more than $8,000, are available online (ohioauditor.gov/auditsearch/search.aspx).
To help prevent future incidents of this nature, the Auditor’s of State’s Office developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, available online (ohioauditor.gov/publications/docs/Ohio_Auditor_of_State_Levy_FAQs_Aug_2023.pdf), that provides further guidance for school districts and other political subdivisions on the issue.
Under Ohio Revised Code, school districts and other local officials cannot use public funds to support or oppose levy or bond issues or to compensate public employees for time spent on such campaigns.
According to the FAQ, “School districts and district personnel are permitted to provide factual information to the public regarding the district’s finances and the impact that the passage or failure of a levy or bond issue might have on the district. However, school districts and personnel are not allowed to use public funds to influence others to support or oppose a levy or bond issue. In short, tax dollars cannot be used to ask for more tax dollars or influence how taxpayers vote.”
SIU received a complaint in late 2019, initially submitted to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office by a resident, alleging that Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Superintendent Douglas Cozad had OK’d the use of district funds to advocate for a tax levy.
SIU investigated and recommended charges against the superintendent and several members of the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Board of Education. The Xenia Law Director appointed SIU attorneys to prosecute the case.
Cozad and former school board member Elizabeth Betz pleaded guilty, pursuant to North Carolina vs. Alford, in September 2022 to misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty. Cozad was ordered to pay restitution of $5,803.59 to the district, and Betz was ordered to pay restitution of $1,303.59. They both provided payment in September 2022.
Board member David Carpenter and former member Virginia Slouffman declined to plea, and their cases went to trial in Xenia Municipal Court, where they were each found guilty of one count of dereliction of duty. The Second District Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions. They were ordered to make restitution of $502 each, which they submitted in November 2023.
Since 2019, the Special Investigations Unit has assisted in 117 convictions resulting in more than $8.2 million in restitution (see?Map of SIU Convictions?since January 2019). The team receives hundreds of tips of suspected fraud annually. Tips can be submitted anonymously online or via SIU’s fraud hotline at 866-FRAUD-OH (866-372-8364).
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 Keith Faber, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates, and prevents fraud in public agencies, and promotes transparency in government.
Contact: Marc Kovac