County should go after stolen money, one way or another

A state audit report issued last week states a former employee in the Columbiana County engineer’s office inflated her husband’s payroll records by $5,273, not the $459 she entered a plea to six weeks before.

Ohio Auditor David Yost issued a finding for recovery against Christina and Jordan Phillips after a special audit by his office determined Christina altered her husbands payroll records while they both worked in the engineers office, resulting in Mr. Phillips being overpaid by $5,273, not $459 as county officials originally thought.

“The people of Columbiana County shelled out money for hours that were never worked, and they should be repaid immediately,” Yost said in a news release.

So why is our county prosecutor reluctant to go after our money and pursue appropriate charges against this thief?

Prosecutor Bob Herron says his office will not pursue additional criminal charges in the matter based on the new allegations because he said this is a civil finding for recovery. Besides that, he said his office has a binding plea agreement that covered the offense.

“The (plea) deal covered the situation, the whole situation. That was the clear understanding of the parties,” Herron said, and to act otherwise after the fact would open his office to charges of “bad faith” dealing and “questionable ethics.”

So how ethical is it to let these tax dollars go uncollected? What if after the deal was made it was discovered that much, much more had been misappropriated? What if it were hundreds of thousands of dollars?

This woman knew what was done and was wise to jump at agreeing to pay back just a few hundred dollars and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge. But what about the taxpayers’ money?

The state auditor’s office said findings for recovery go first to the local county prosecutor to pursue either criminally or civilly. If the prosecutor declines, the matter is referred to the Ohio Attorney General for possible action.

Herron said he intends to speak with the auditor’s office on what to do about the finding for recovery, and we hope either his office or the state take some sort of action. County taxpayers are owed at least that much.