Ohio sheriff pleads not guilty
Frank Hinchey, Dispatch Staff Reporter
(FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Ohio) -- Before new theft charges were filed against him this month, Fairfield County Sheriff Gary DeMastry rejected a deal that would have sent him to prison for only three years for misspending $330,000 in public money, The Dispatch has learned.
Instead, he faces a Feb. 16 trial and up to 15 years in prison on hundreds of theft-related charges. The embattled sheriff, who remains upbeat about his fate, yesterday pleaded not guilty to 20 new counts that he mishandled money from his office's Law Enforcement Trust Fund and Furtherance of Justice Fund.
DeMastry, 45, whose term ends Dec. 31, declined to comment on the deal he turned down or the new charges he faces. "I've served the community for 20 years,'' he said. "I am very happy for that. I have a week left, and I plan to be in the office. I wish everyone a happy holiday season and a safe one.''
If he had accepted the deal, DeMastry would have served half as much time behind bars as former Franklin County Clerk of Courts Jesse Oddi, who was charged in a 49-count indictment of stealing$448,681 from the public office. Oddi received a 6-year sentence in 1998.
Special prosecutor Stephen Wolaver, of Greene County, confirmed that there had been "discussions'' with DeMastry's former attorneys to resolve DeMastry's case but he declined to discuss details.
"Any plea would have probably concluded this case,'' Wolaver said yesterday. "We always try to work toward resolving a case . . . short of a trial,'' he said. "If we can do so and get a resolution, great. If we can't, we can't. We are at the point where we are proceeding . . .toward trial.''
DeMastry was indicted Jan. 31 on 323 felony corruption charges after a special audit revealed that the sheriff and his employees misspent $329,500 in public money from 1994 to 1998 on personal travel, dining, and entertainment. His wife, Penny, who handled bookkeeping for the office, also was indicted on 27 counts.
The sheriff and his wife have denied any wrongdoing in the handling of the law-enforcement accounts, which are to be used for purposes such as paying informants and buying drugs while working undercover.
The most recent charges accuse DeMastry of enlisting someone to help him on April 28 sign 24false receipts to cover checks from two law-enforcement funds -- an incident caught on videotape.
The sheriff was not aware that his helper that day was a state informant working with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, according to court filings. Investigators using a search warrant on Dec. 13 located and seized the checks from the sheriff's office.
Though Wolaver said he has gathered good evidence, DeMastry's attorney Max Kravitz sounded confident yesterday.
"We have a good defense,'' he said. "We are looking forward to presenting it in court.''
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