FREMONT - Offering an apology but no explanation, former Clyde-Green Springs Schools Superintendent Todd Helms stood stone-faced as his fate was read yesterday - eight years in prison for stealing nearly $300,000 from the school district.
His attorney, Dean Henry, had asked for "a degree of grace," but Judge Barbara Ansted of Sandusky County Common Pleas Court said the only grace the court would extend was to make the prison sentences for his 10 separate charges run concurrently.
"You will spend eight years in prison," she told Helms.
The judge also ordered him to pay $380,643: $295,081 to the school district and $53,222 for a special audit; $25,691 for the Clyde Police Department's investigation, and $6,649 for 109 hours of work by the Ohio Department of Taxation.
"Today, finally, Clyde-Green Springs can move out of the darkness and into the light," Michael Loughman, the school board's attorney, said after the hearing.
Both board President Todd Warner and current Superintendent Gregg Elchert denounced Mr. Helms' crimes and breach of trust before the sentence was imposed.
"As students and their various organizations were preparing fund-raisers to assist with finances of a field trip or some other noble activity, Mr. Helms found it necessary to concoct a scheme to steal this money for his own personal use," Mr. Warner said. "As a member of the board of education and the Clyde community, I find this particularly repulsive."
He said community members, who approved an emergency operating levy Nov. 3 - the same day Helms pleaded guilty to 10 of the 19 counts against him - deserved to know he would be justly punished.
Family members of Todd Helms meet with his attorney, Dean Henry, after Helms is sentenced by Judge Barbara Ansted.
"Mr. Helms' crimes have cast a shadow of mistrust over our school district that will take years to overcome," Mr. Warner said.
As part of a plea agreement, Helms pleaded guilty to theft in office, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, filing a false tax return, and six counts of grand theft.
James Manken, an attorney in the state auditor's office who served as special prosecutor in the case, said Helms submitted 32 fictitious invoices, took checks intended for booster groups on 69 occasions, and used district credit cards improperly.
"He went to the office, upheld himself as the superintendent, but, unlike a bank robber who would put on a mask and use a gun, he used his position of authority sitting in his office every day to commit these theft offenses," Mr. Manken said.
The prosecutor contended Helms showed no remorse but tried to portray himself as "a modern-day Robin Hood."
"He did this to the detriment of the children. He did this to the benefit of nobody but himself," Mr. Manken said.
"He said he did this to get money back to the school in other ways. There is no evidence from the very detailed audit that went on that one penny of the money he took was ever returned to the school, no evidence whatsoever, not a single penny."
In a barely audible voice, Helms told the court he was sorry for everything that had happened "since that day in 2004 when the whole process was in its infancy."
He apologized to friends, family, the "incredible" staff he once supervised, and the community.
"I stand before you today a broken individual," Helms said.
Mr. Henry said he could not explain his client's behavior, which ultimately destroyed his marriage and "a career of a lifetime."
Helms was the principal at Clyde High School for four years before being named superintendent in 2002. He resigned in September, 2008, in the midst of the embezzlement investigation.
"There is a dichotomy in this man that I don't know that I can articulate to the court," Mr. Henry said.
"I don't know what caused a man who loved the community, who loved the job, who loved the career, who loved the school system so much, to do this."
Yet to be decided is how much of Helms' pension from the State Teachers Retirement System will be applied toward the restitution he was ordered to pay to the school district.
Before Helms was indicted last April, his wife, Rosemary, filed for divorce, and she has an ownership interest in his pension, Mr. Henry told the court.
"I would ask the court not to create another victim in this case by depriving Mrs. Helms of what is rightfully hers," he said. "There is no evidence in this case that she had anything to do with or even knew of this criminal activity."
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