Trial for remaining Bellbrook school board members delayed again

XENIA — Criminal trials for the current Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school board president and a former school board member have been delayed again, after a plea deal was arranged by two other school officials last week.

New trial dates for former board member Virginia Slouffman and current president David Carpenter are now set for Nov. 21, according to Xenia Municipal Court officials, citing ongoing negotiations and attorney scheduling.

The trials had been scheduled to begin today.

The two defendants are the only ones remaining of five originally accused of misusing public funds during a school levy campaign in May 2019. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Superintendent Doug Cozad and former board member Elizabeth Betz took plea deals on Friday. Additionally, prosecutors declined to prosecute the case against former board member Kathy Kingston in July, citing her age and health.

All four board members were accused of illegal transaction of public funds and dereliction of duty, both misdemeanors. The current and former board members were charged with one count of each, and Cozad was charged with four counts of each.

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 postcards cost more than $3,200, according to an affidavit from Auditor of State fraud investigator John Uhl, 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.

Newsletters paid for by 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.

In a statement, Cozad wrote that Ohio law around advocating for school levies is “still unclear.”

Cozad and Betz both took an “Alford plea” deal Friday. Cozad pleaded guilty to one count of dereliction of duty, and was ordered to pay just over $5,800 in restitution to the district. Betz pleaded guilty to one count of dereliction of duty and was ordered to pay just over $1,300 in restitution.

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.”

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