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Published: Wednesday, 5/26/2010

Putnam Co. sheriff's wife gets three years for theft

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA, Ohio - Saying her crime was tantamount to robbing a bank 86 times, visiting Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld sentenced the wife of Putnam County Sheriff James Beutler Tuesday to three years in prison for stealing more than $261,000 from the Ohio Farmers Union.

Kathy Beutler, 47, of Columbus Grove broke down in tears as her sentence was read in a packed Putnam County Common Pleas courtroom. Her bond was revoked, and deputies from the Mercer County Sheriff's Office took her into custody.

"The record is clear that the defendant has committed a horrible crime in this case," said Judge Muehlfeld, a Henry County judge appointed to hear the case. "It was composed of a systematic series of what amounts to 86 separate theft offenses committed against her employer, committed over a period of four years - a crime certainly of greed and pride and it seems to me a fair amount of selfishness on the part of the defendant."

In addition to the prison term, Judge Muehlfeld ordered Beutler to pay $61,159 in restitution to the farmers union, up to $20,000 to cover the cost of a forensic audit the organization paid for after discovering the embezzlement, and a $2,500 fine. Because the farmers' union was reimbursed $200,000 from its insurance carrier, the judge said he could not legally order restitution for that portion of the stolen money.

The Putnam County Common Pleas Courtroom was packed and emotional at Beutler's sentencing. It drew her loved ones as well as representatives of the organization that she wronged. The Putnam County Common Pleas Courtroom was packed and emotional at Beutler's sentencing. It drew her loved ones as well as representatives of the organization that she wronged.
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"The effect on the overall financial condition of the Ohio Farmers Union is dramatic," the judge said, looking directly at Beutler. "And Mrs. Beutler, in your position, you should know better than anyone else the dramatic effect that this had on that organization."

Special prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr., said afterward that Beutler would be eligible to ask the court for early release from prison after serving six months.

He had asked the court for a four-year prison sentence after outlining how Beutler, as secretary-treasurer of the farmers' union, had made unauthorized transfers from the organization's payroll account to three personal accounts beginning in 2005 when she was promoted to the position until 2009 when she was fired.

"This one person nearly single-handedly broke the financial back of one of the leading farm organizations here in Ohio that served farmers not only in Putnam County but farmers throughout the state of Ohio," Mr. Egbert said.

Sheriff Beutler Sheriff Beutler
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He rejected the defense's claim that Beutler stole the money after amassing huge credit-card debts dating back to 1998.

"Kathy Beutler chose to engage in conduct that got herself into her own financial hole with her credit cards and then chose to violate her fiduciary duty in a position of trust as the treasurer of the Ohio Farmers Union," Mr. Egbert said.

Beutler tearfully apologized, telling the court that the day she was forced to reveal her crime to her husband of nearly 19 years was the worst day of her life.

"He and I have been able to work with a counselor to save our marriage and our family, and I'll work the rest of my life to rebuild the trust with him and all these people in the courtroom," Beutler said.

Her attorney, Kurt Sahloff, suggested to the court that 30 days in a local jail "would be far enough" and that probation and community service would be appropriate for Beutler, who he said began stealing from her employer because she was too embarrassed and pride-filled to tell her husband the extent of her credit-card problems.

Four officials from the Ohio Farmers Union asked the court to impose up to the maximum prison sentence of five years for the woman they once considered a friend and trusted employee. After the embezzlement was discovered, they said, eight employees were furloughed and the organization nearly bankrupted.

Ben Hauck, a member of the union's executive committee, said the case had immense interest in the agricultural community and he asked the court "to send a clear message that it is not acceptable in Ohio to bite the hand that feeds you."

He also took a few stabs at the third-term sheriff, saying Mr. Beutler's wife had stolen an average of $5,416 a month for four years tax-free.

"I could not imagine going out every day to uphold the law and having a spouse who was making light of it," Mr. Hauck said. "Lavish vacations - Cancun, northeastern United States, Utah - at farmers' expense."

Mr. Egbert said after the hearing that investigators found no evidence that Sheriff Beutler was aware of the embezzlement nor could they trace the stolen money to any major purchases.

He did tell the court that Beutler used $555 in farmers' union money to bid during a charity auction on four VIP tickets to a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game that she attended with her husband.

After hugging a line of family members and friends after the hearing, Sheriff Beutler said he accepted the judge's decision. He said he did not support the ethical, moral, or legal implications of what his wife did but that he supported her spiritually.

"She's my family and you don't kick your family to the curb," he said. "She did come honest. She was honest about it."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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