NAPOLEON — Six weeks before Henry County voters decide whether to re-elect Commissioner Richard Myers to another term, the Liberty Center man has been indicted by a Henry County grand jury on a felony charge of having an unlawful interest in a contract.
Mr. Myers, 63, is accused of “unlawfully causing” $300,000 in public funds to be paid to a specialty-car company that had talked of moving to Henry County from Decatur, Ind., in 2009.
According to state Auditor Dave Yost, whose office investigated the case with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Myers loaned $25,000 of his personal funds to the project before he persuaded fellow commissioners to grant the $300,000 loan, signed a note for repayment, and arranged for other private investors.
“Every public official in Ohio needs to know that your money and the public’s money never get anywhere near each other,” Mr. Yost said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The moment he wrote that check, he crossed over not a thin line, but a great big double yellow line.”
The money, which came from the county’s revolving loan fund, was paid to Peter Collorafi, president and chief executive officer of Revenge Designs Inc., an automobile customizer that had plans to build an assembly and endurance-testing facility. Those plans never materialized.
Mr. Yost said the committee that reviewed applications for funds from the county’s revolving loan fund actually turned down Mr. Collorafi’s application. “In the meantime, Commissioner Myers was very interested in getting this thing going,” Mr. Yost said.
“He made a personal loan of $25,000 to [Mr.] Collorafi to be repaid once he got the commissioners to agree to release the $300,000. At that point under the law, he has obtained an unlawful interest in a public contract.”
The commissioners ultimately agreed to loan the money, though it is alleged that Mr. Myers didn’t tell his fellow commissioners he’d personally loaned money for the project. He also didn’t abstain from voting on the loan.
“He really needed to disclose his interest and he couldn’t participate under Ohio law, even in the deliberations,” Mr. Yost said. “His failure to disclose his lobbying and loan for it were all improper.”
Mr. Myers, who attended Thursday’s board of commissioners meeting, could not be reached for comment.
He told The Blade in a 2009 interview that Revenge Designs had to secure at least $450,000 in private funding and agree to build in Henry County for the revolving loan fund guarantee to come into play.
“There’s multiple locations in the mix, and we're one of them,” Mr. Myers said at the time. “We’re trying to do our best to entice him to come to Henry County.”
Tom VonDeylen, the comissioners’ president, said Thursday the $300,000 loan had been an issue for some time and the money should not have been handed over to Revenge Designs in the first place.
He alleged Mr. Myers delivered the check to the company before the county prosecutor had approved loan documents.
“When it was discovered that the money had been distributed improperly, the county was required to repay, out of our general fund monies, the $300,000 that was distributed,” Mr. VonDeylen said.
He agreed with the state auditor, who said in a news release, “The people of Henry County want their $300,000 back — and who can blame them? It takes a special kind of arrogance to be this reckless with the taxpayer checkbook.”
“I am part of that,” Mr. VonDeylen said. “I want our $300,000 back.”
The case is being handled by Special Prosecutor Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for Mr. Yost. Henry County Prosecutor Jay Hanna, who requested the special prosecutor, declined to comment on whether the county would provide or pay for Mr. Myers' legal representation in the case.
Mr. Yost said the indictment does not preclude Mr. Myers from continuing to serve as a commissioner or run for re-election. However, if he were convicted of a felony, Mr. Myers no longer would be eligible to hold public office in Ohio.
A former Washington Township trustee, farmer, and founding member of Liberty Software Systems, Mr. Myers was elected in November, 2006, to fill the unexpired term of Commissioner Steve Baden, who resigned after his arrest and subsequent conviction in Lucas County for chasing a 14-year-old girl in South Toledo.
Mr. Myers, a Democrat, was re-elected in 2008. He is being challenged for re-election Nov. 6 by Republican Glenn Miller of Napoleon.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at :firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.