Reconstructing Dayton unearths county corruption in the prosecutors office

Following an anonymous tip to this site, Reconstructing Dayton, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, has revealed that the Montgomery County’s Prosecutor’s Office diverted “surplus funds” into extremely large employee bonuses, which cost the office/taxpayers over $1 million. This comes at a time when the county has enacted austerity measures because of the pandemic and property values are set to increase 15%.

The bonuses range anywhere from $4,500 to $23,000. The smallest bonus amounted to 9.0% of the employee’s salary, with the largest equaling 21.6%. The average was much closer to the latter number—15.4%. The average bonus: $8,851.35. The county has made a show of tightening the budget for the pandemic and foregoing pay raises. Apparently that was all for show as they increased bonuses to make up for it.

We were told it was a common practice in all county offices, but, most of our public records requests were stonewalled, and for good reason: this is graft. And the delays in turning over public records is criminal as well, but Ohio’s sunshine laws are pretty much a joke, since no one ever gets tossed out of office for violating them, even though it’s a legal remedy.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, graft is defined as “gains secured by corruption.” Wikipedia has an even better definition, calling it “the unscrupulous use of a politician’s authority for personal gain.” We’re still sorting out the legality of this issue, which is more difficult than it should be, mostly because Ohio Revised Code (ORC) is written in a language that only lawyers could love.

The bonuses violate the spirit of the law, if not the letter, because technically, bonuses amount to a way to influence and control public servants who are supposed to work for the taxpaying public, not the elected officials. That’s why ORC suggests that all pay raises be voted on publicly.

It is our opinion that county Prosecutor Mat Heck has clearly violated the public trust and has unscrupulously used his political authority to benefit his employees and maintain his control over them.

Here’s what the ORC says:

(D) No public official or employee shall use or authorize the use of the authority or influence of office or employment to secure anything of value or the promise or offer of anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.

(E) No public official or employee shall solicit or accept anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.

(F) No person shall promise or give to a public official or employee anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official or employee with respect to that person’s duties.

The Prosecutor’s Office isn’t Mat Heck Incorporated. It does not exist to enrich its employees. It exists to provide justice for the citizens of Montgomery County and it is supposed to pay its employees a fair market value in order to achieve that goal.

When a county office runs a budget surplus, the right thing to do is to return that money to the county. It can be used for other county programs, to pay off debts, improve safety in the jail, pay for settlements against the jail, or even lower taxes. That this comes at a time when a pandemic has placed a financial strain on so many is all the more galling, but that shouldn’t matter.

This illegal bonus system further reveals the greater systemic issues with politics in Montgomery County. After all, how does Mat Heck personally gain from being the boss of the year every year? He has been the Montgomery County Prosecutor since 1992. Since at least 2000 (the earliest the Board of Elections website keeps records), he has run unopposed. Surely any attorney in Montgomery County knows that to oppose Heck would be career suicide. What Mat Heck’s 125 content employees really provide is a large voting block of the local Democratic party central committee. I have personally seen his vindictiveness in action when his prosecutors failed to get a grand jury to prosecute Jennifer Selhorst for embezzlement from my firm, but did prosecute the much simpler case against her for a much smaller amount for the disabled veteran I care for.

The local political bureaucracy is run like a private club. I’ve called it the Monarchy of Montgomery County for a long time. It’s like a secret society that operates out in the open. They look out for one another and ensure that money circulates to the right campaigns, the right operatives, and the right businesses. Make no mistake, these bonuses are not about job performance in the offices these individuals serve. It’s about fidelity to party and preventing any electoral disruptions.  It’s how party trolls like Russ Joseph get put into appointed positions twice to lose in elections as an incumbent.

That’s what happens when local government becomes a friends and family business. The bureaucrats have all looked after themselves, working as a collective against the interests of the electorate to benefit themselves. It’s graft. This situation is no different than old Tammany Hall in Gilded Age New York City. Our officials are no longer in the service of government, they are in the business of government. This is why the FBI’s calling it a “Culture of Corruption” is true- they just are impotent imposters.

Reconstructing Dayton will follow up this initial report with deeper analysis that looks into who is getting the biggest pieces of pie and what they do to obtain them. Hopefully the Dayton Daily News will eventually take notice, but so far they have ignored press releases from Reconstructing Dayton despite undertaking newsworthy initiatives like drafting a ranked-choice voting petition for Dayton. Fortunately, the Dayton Business Journal has taken notice. Read their piece about Reconstructing Dayton here.

Go to Reconstructing Dayton’s website and sign up for their newsletters to keep up to date as more information about the Montgomery County bonus scandal unfolds. Our sources tell us this extends well beyond the Prosecutor’s Office and as more public records requests are fulfilled we will compile and share the information with the public. Also consider donating to Reconstructing Dayton to keep this type of investigative journalism that you won’t find in the local papers going.

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