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Ex-schools chief offers guilty plea in theft case

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Helms

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FREMONT - Former Clyde-Green Springs School Superintendent Todd Helms faces up to 28 years in prison after admitting to stealing nearly $300,000 from the school district he led.

Helms, 45, of Tiffin pleaded guilty in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court Tuesday to theft in office, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, filing a false or fraudulent tax return, and six counts of theft.

He also agreed to forfeit his public pension and is permanently barred from serving in a public office.

Superintendent from 2002 until his resignation in 2008, Helms had been scheduled to go to trial yesterday on a 19-count indictment charging him with credit card misuse, falsifying invoices, depositing school funds in personal accounts, and stealing money from several school organizations.

His attorney, Dean Henry, said Helms agreed to plead to a reduced set of charges "for the same reasons everybody does."

"The evidence against him in some respects was very solid," Mr. Henry said. "I had asked for and [the special prosecutor] and I discussed doing a plea agreement to avoid trial on a lengthy indictment and to allow Todd to take responsibility for the acts he had committed."

James Manken, an attorney in the auditor's office who served as special prosecutor, said Helms signed off on invoices for four fictitious companies, deposited checks from the school district and school boosters club into his own account, and stole money from a number of other booster and parent organizations.

Among the fictitious companies he created was GTR Enterprises, which he used to "order" repair parts, supplies, and services from the company, signing purchase orders indicating he had received the parts, and sending checks from the school district to pay for the parts to GTR's bank account.

The crimes were uncovered during an investigation prompted by a call to Clyde Police Chief Bruce Gower by the school district's treasurer, who found some bills that didn't seem right.

Chief Gower turned the case over to State Auditor Mary Taylor's office, which reported in August that Helms had stolen $295,767 in district funds over a five-year period.

"This is a proper ending to an investigation that concluded Todd Helms stole hundreds of thousands of tax dollars meant to educate children in this community," Ms. Taylor said. "We will continue our vigilant work to track down fraud and make sure those stealing from Ohio taxpayers are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

As part of the plea agreement, nine charges against Helms are to be dismissed at sentencing, while others are to be reduced in severity. Still, Helms could face up to 28 years in prison if he receives the maximum term on each count and the sentences are ordered to be served consecutively.

Mr. Henry said as part of the plea agreement, no promises were made about a sentencing recommendation.

Mr. Henry said he expects Helms to address the court when he is sentenced Dec. 9 before Common Pleas Judge Barbara Ansted. He said Helms has not been employed since he resigned from Clyde-Green Springs schools in September, 2008.

Helms' parents and two sisters were in court for the hearing, which also was attended by village and school officials.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.

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