State recommends plea deal in Bellbrook superintendent case

Pretrial report filed in Xenia Municipal Court

Prosecutors have recommended that Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school superintendent Doug Cozad plead guilty to four of eight charges against him, according to a pretrial report filed in Xenia Municipal Court.

The form signed by Samuel Kirk, special prosecutor from the Ohio Auditor of State office, recommends that Cozad plead guilty to one of four counts of illegal transaction of public funds and three of the four counts of dereliction of duty, with the other four counts being dropped.

In addition, the state prosecutor recommends that Cozad pay restitution in the amount of $61,214, in addition to court costs.

The document says that “defendant needs time to review voluminous discovery (documents).” It also says the parties in the case have requested an additional pretrial session next week “to discuss potential resolution.”

Representatives of the Ohio Auditor of State declined to comment, as the case is ongoing. Calls placed Cozad’s lawyers were not immediately returned.

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Cozad, 47, faces four counts of illegal transaction of public funds and four counts of dereliction of duty, which are first and second degree misdemeanors, respectively.

The case deals with alleged use of public school district funds to pass a tax levy. Ohio law prohibits “political subdivisions” such as school districts and cities, from using taxpayer money in any way that “supports or opposes … the passage of a levy or bond issue.”

Cozad is accused of authorizing the mailing of school levy newsletters to the public, paid for with district funds around March or April 2019. An affidavit from Auditor of State fraud investigator John Uhl says in one example, the district used $5,214 in public money to send messages saying “Continue the excellence with the passage of Issue 4.”

After the defeat of the May 2019 levy, Cozad is accused of authorizing and approving the expenditure of public funds of $37,000 to hire Allerton Hill Consulting and $15,000 for a telephone survey conducted by Fallon Research and Communication Inc.

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The consultant was hired to assist the district in public communication and messaging. Both firms were hired “for the purpose of reviving and passing another proposed operating levy,” the court documents stated.

Five past and present Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools officials, including its current board president, have been charged in connection with alleged misuse of public funds. Board President David Carpenter, board member Virginia Slouffman and past board members Liz Betz and Kathy Kingston have also been charged with one count each of illegal transaction of public funds and dereliction of duty.

Betz, Carpenter, Kingston and Slouffman, who all served on the school board at the time, signed a letter in April/May 2019 that was part of a mailer to district residents. The board post cards cost more than $3,200 and were paid for with district funds. Included in the mailer was a photograph of the board with the title “Continue the excellence with the passage of Issue 4 on May 7,” documents stated.

The board members are scheduled for arraignment the week of Jan. 17, according to the municipal court docket.

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