Former Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton will soon be the former police chief of Genoa after he was charged Thursday in federal court with improperly spending about $5,000 while he was still sheriff.
Chief Bratton, 60, of Genoa intends to plead guilty to a bill of information charging him with one count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, a felony, according to his attorney, Rick Kerger. The former sheriff allegedly used money from his office’s Furtherance of Justice Fund for personal expenses rather than law enforcement purposes.
“You cannot continue in office as a police chief if you’ve been convicted of a felony and, once the matter ends, he will plead to a felony,” Mr. Kerger said.
Genoa Village Administrator Kevin Gladden said Chief Bratton submitted a letter to the mayor letting him know he would be resigning effective Monday.
The alleged misspending was uncovered in 2012 in a special audit of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office by Ohio Auditor David Yost. The audit found $7,214 in purchases that Chief Bratton — who had resigned as sheriff in September, 2011, to take the chief’s job in the town where he lived — had made but could not provide receipts or invoices for to prove he had spent the money lawfully.
The personal purchases included shoes, belts, neckties, reading glasses, cigars, Cedar Point passes, gift cards, and other items. Chief Bratton conceded he had kept poor records but said he had used the money to purchase items to reward citizen volunteers and give employees bonuses as well as for expenses he thought were related to his job, like dry cleaning his suits.
Chief Bratton repaid the money to the county, and Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan said at the time that he had discussed the matter with the state auditor’s office and determined nothing criminal had occurred.
Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s Office, declined to comment on why the criminal charge was being filed now — nearly two years later.
In a news release Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said Chief Bratton was the fiduciary over the Furtherance of Justice Fund, and the money was to be used only for expenses relating to official law enforcement duties and in the furtherance of justice.
“Money that was supposed to help the men and women in law enforcement was instead diverted and spent on personal items, including tickets to an amusement park,” Mr. Dettelbach said. “This is hardly amusing to the rest of us. Those who are trusted to enforce the law, above all, cannot place themselves above it.”
Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland office, said the FBI “will investigate those who violate the public’s trust, no matter what position that individual holds.”
Mr. Kerger said Chief Bratton admits he “misused funds, not with the intention of misusing them, but with the effect of misusing them.”
Asked to explain that statement, he said, “What I’m saying is that he has broken the law, but that was never his intent. In other words, the lack of record keeping was not to conceal these activities, it was just that he didn’t do a very good job of keeping records, and when he spent the funds he didn’t seek advice of whether they were proper or not because he thought they were.”
Mr. Kerger said that in his years as sheriff, Chief Bratton probably handled more than $100,000 in Furtherance of Justice funds yet “only roughly $5,000 has been called into question.” While there is no agreement on a possible sentence, Mr. Kerger said the chief will not be required to pay restitution.
“Long before this charge was brought all the monies were repaid,” he said.
Chief Bratton is to appear in U.S. District Court Jan. 29 for an initial appearance and arraignment before Judge Jack Zouhary.
The mayor of Swanton in the 1970s, Chief Bratton worked for the Northwood and Sylvania Township police departments during his long career in law enforcement. He was hired by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office in 1993 and was elected sheriff in 2004.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.