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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

Port Clinton ex-official is indicted for metal theft


PORT CLINTON - A high-ranking city employee who recently resigned from his post over the sale of city-owned scrap metal was indicted yesterday by an Ottawa County grand jury on two counts of felony theft.

Richard J. Babcock, 56, former safety-service director, was indicted on one count of theft and one count of theft in office. He is to make his initial appearance in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court on Sept. 21.

Reports from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office accused Mr. Babcock of selling city-owned scrap metal and failing to turn the funds over to the city.

Because the scrap metal sold for between $500 and $5,000, the theft and the theft in office charges are felonies, Mark Mulligan, Ottawa County prosecutor, said.

The sheriff's office conducted the investigation this month at Mr. Mulligan's request.

But before detectives began investigating, allegations of a $1,200 receipt for the sale of scrap metal being forged prompted city officials to ask the Toledo law firm of Marshall & Melhorn to conduct an internal investigation in July.

On Aug. 14, Mr. Babcock and another city employee, Kenneth Heschel, the former service department supervisor, were placed on unpaid administrative leave while the law firm completed its investigation. It hand-delivered its final report to city officials last Wednesday.

It states that Mr. Babcock and Mr. Heschel worked to "winterize" the old Waterworks building, a city-owned facility, on Jan. 13 and Jan. 14.

In the process, they disconnected copper waterlines and brass fittings and decided to sell the material to Burns Iron & Metal Co. Inc. of Fremont, with the intent to create a slush fund for work-related purposes.

The two claim they sold the material on Jan. 15 for $1,200, and put the cash in a file cabinet in Mr. Heschel's office at the city cemetery where it stayed until April 24. On that date, Mr. Heschel handed the entire amount to then-City Auditor Nancy O'Neal, who repeatedly asked him to submit a receipt to account for the cash.

The receipt he provided was not dated and the word "copy" was in the signature portion of the receipt. The metal company did not have a record of the $1,200 transaction, according to the investigation.

When the investigation was completed, Mayor Tom Brown asked Mr. Babcock to resign and demoted Mr. Heschel to heavy-equipment operator.

Mr. Mulligan said Mr. Heschel will not be prosecuted as long as he provides truthful testimony to the grand jury regarding his activities and knowledge of events leading up to the sale of scrap metal.

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