Phone spurs DTF probe

LISBON – The investigation into the Columbiana County Drug Task Force has something to do with a cell phone being provided to a non-DTF member, according to the DTF’s board of control meeting minutes from Nov. 26.

At the emergency board meeting, county Sheriff Ray Stone advised other members a cell phone may have been given to a non-DTF member.

“Sheriff advised his preliminary investigation determined that the phone had been in use and the task force had received bills for at least four months,” according to the meeting minutes provided by county Prosecutor Robert Herron, who serves as board secretary. Stone serves as chairman.

Based on Stone’s findings, the DTF office was closed for about two weeks, the locks changed and an inventory of equipment performed. He also contacted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and state auditor’s office to undertake the probe to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

Stone, who declined comment other than to say the state investigation is continuing, had indicated before that the investigation involved possible financial irregularities at the DTF, but he did not provide any specifics.

At the Nov. 26 meeting, the board also suspended DTF Director Dan Downard, whose home department is the Lisbon Police Department. Downard is currently on paid leave from Lisbon pending the outcome of the investigation, and his attorney has previously declined comment.

In meetings held since Downard was suspended, the board gave new DTF Director Brian McLaughlin permission to close all financial accounts and open new ones. The board also approved a new policy for handling seized drug money, which McLaughlin said was being held in a safe in the DTF evidence room. The money will be now placed in a separate bank account.

“I think it needed tightened up,” he said. “By putting the money in the bank there is another paper trail.”

McLaughlin also recommended updating the DTF Internet policy, which was instituted in 2001 in the days before social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He said the policy restricts what agents can and cannot do when accessing these social media sites.

“It just needed updated. There wasn’t anything in place for any of that,” he said.