Special prosecutor Robert Smith, right, questions Dennis Miller of the Maumee Valley Planning Organization during the first day of ex-commissioner Richard Myers’ trial on Monday.
NAPOLEON — The longtime clerk of the Henry County Board of Commissioners said she was taken aback when former Commissioner Richard Myers ordered her to hand over checks totaling $300,000 made out to a company that had not yet met the county’s conditions for the loan.
“In a tone of voice he’d never used with me before or since, he told me I would give him these checks,” Vicki Glick testified Monday during the first day of Mr. Myers’ criminal trial in Henry County Common Pleas Court. “I told him if this comes back to bite us, I am not going to be happy.”
Last fall, it came back to bite Mr. Myers, 64, of Liberty Center, who was indicted for having an unlawful interest in a contract. The Democrat, who was subsequently defeated in his re-election bid in November, is on trial for two felony counts each of having an unlawful interest in a contract and money laundering.
Special Prosecutor Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for State Auditor Dave Yost, said Mr. Myers loaned $25,000 of his own money to Revenge Designs Inc., a specialty automaker run by Peter Collorafi, convinced fellow commissioners to loan the firm $300,000 from the county’s revolving loan fund, and personally delivering the checks. He did not disclose his interest in the company, Mr. Smith alleged, and voted on the loan despite that conflict.
During a full day of testimony at a bench trial before visiting Judge Randall Basinger of Putnam County, county officials and representatives of the Maumee Valley Planning Organization, which administers Henry County’s revolving loan fund, testified that Mr. Myers was the project’s biggest cheerleader.
Commissioner Tom VonDeylen said Mr. Myers was “clearly infatuated” with the project even though the revolving loan fund committee had recommended that commissioners deny the loan application. Mr. Myers brought the project to the board Aug. 11, 2009, and the three agreed to extend the loan if Mr. Collorafi came up with $450,000 in private financing, moved his business from Indiana to Henry County, and met other conditions.
Mr. VonDeylen insisted he did not like the sound of the project but agreed to it with stipulations that he didn’t expect the company to meet. He said he was stunned to learn in 2010 that Mr. Collorafi had received the $300,000 without meeting those conditions.
To date, none of the money has been repaid, and commissioners used $300,000 from the county’s general fund to repay the revolving loan fund, which was frozen by the Ohio Department of Development as a result of the bad loan.
“I will go to my grave thinking the county should not have repaid that $300,000,” Mr. VonDeylen said. “Commissioner Myers said at the time that he didn’t lose any sleep over it. I did.”
Defense attorney Martin Mohler told the court in opening statements that his client was simply trying to help give his county a badly needed shot in the arm during the low point of the economic downturn.
“This is a story of failed economic development,” Mr. Mohler said. “… Everything Rich Myers did was motivated solely by his desire to bring jobs and industry to Henry County.”
Mr. Mohler suggested Mr. Myers’ criminal prosecution was all about trying to get the $300,000 back “even though everyone agrees he received not one cent of the loan funds.” He put much of the blame on the Maumee Valley Planning Organization, which he said made a series of errors in the deal.
Brent Gerken, president of the Napoleon-based Gerken Companies, testified that Mr. Myers introduced him to Mr. Collorafi and that he later loaned him $405,000 — a loan that has not been repaid.
“I found it to be risky but very possibly viable in Henry County,” he said of Mr. Collorafi’s plans. “I know he’s still out there trying to make this work, but not in Ohio.”
The trial is expected to conclude today.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.