Henry Conte, spokesman for the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district, released a statement on behalf of the board of education.
“The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District Board of Education was informed of the outcome of the trial involving its current president David Carpenter and former member Virginia Slouffman,” the statement reads. “While the legal process took longer than expected, now that it has reached its conclusion, the board is eager to return its full attention to the business of educating students.”
Samuel J. Kirk of the Ohio Auditor’s office, the prosecuting attorney in the case, said the illegal use of funds count required that the state prove the defendants acted “knowingly,” while the dereliction count required only a lesser showing that they acted “recklessly.”
Kirk said Carpenter and Slouffman had less involvement than the other defendants and, after hearing their testimony, the court did not believe that they acted “knowingly,” but that the judge did believe they acted “recklessly.”
Thomas Schiff, the attorney for both Carpenter and Slouffman, said he and his clients were pleased with the judge’s finding of not guilty, but disagreed with the guilty finding.
“With respect to the dereliction charge, though we respect the decision of the court, and I believe he gave it due consideration, we believe he just came to the wrong decision,” Schiff said.
He is not certain if his clients plan to appeal.
In September, Bellbrook school Superintendent Doug Cozard took an “Alford plea” in the case. Cozad pleaded guilty to one count of dereliction of duty and was ordered to pay just over $5,800 in restitution to the district.
According the Department of Justice, an Alford plea is “when the defendant maintains his or her innocence with respect to the charge to which he or she offers to plead guilty.”
Also in September, former school board member Liz Betz took an “Alford plea” to a single count of dereliction of duty and was ordered to pay just over $1,300 in restitution.
Carpenter, Cozad and the other school board members had been accused of authorizing public, district funds to pay for newsletters promoting a school tax levy. Newsletters paid for by local school districts have long walked a thin line between sharing positive school information with voters, which is allowed, and openly campaigning for passage of a tax levy, which is not.
Cozad had faced eight misdemeanor charges, including four counts of illegal transaction of public funds and four counts of dereliction of duty, related to mailers sent out during a May 2019 school levy campaign.