Ex-Dayton employee sentenced in check-cashing scheme

Update@noon (Feb. 24):

A Montgomery County Common Pleas judge on Tuesday sentenced Turner to five years in prison, and she must pay part of the $384,000 that she and her accomplices stole from taxpayers. She must also forfeit her retirement benefits from the city, Judge Mary Katherine Huffman ordered.

First Take:

Former Dayton law department executive secretary Christen C. Turner will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty to 145 felony counts from a five-year check-cashing scheme that cost the city more than $365,000.

Turner, 40, will be sentenced Tuesday morning in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. Prosecutors said the scheme included Turner signing off on 146 checks to at least 33 friends for “bogus” claims against the city.

Under the plea agreement announced Monday, Turner must pay full restitution and will be barred from employment with a public office upon her release.

“The resolution tried to take into account that she had no prior record, that she served the community well for many years,” said Jon Paul Rion, one of Turner’s attorneys. “This resolution is acceptable to the family.”

Turner was found guilty of one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one count of theft in office of more than $7,500 and 143 counts of tampering with government records. The crimes took place from 2009 until 2013.

Turner and eight co-conspirators — none of whom were city employees — were indicted last year on charges including theft in office, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and tampering with government records. Of the eight, two got probation, three were sentenced to prison and three are awaiting sentencing.

“Hopefully, the other people that are responsible come forward and that the prosecutor’s office uses due diligence to try all the other parties involved,” said Rion, saying it would be fair if Turner is found to be responsible for about a third of the $365,000.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. has said another 25 people took part in the scheme and that they are eligible for a diversion program if they pay restitution.

Heck did not comment about the plea deal Monday. An office spokesman said Heck and Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl would address the case after sentencing. In September, Heck said: “(Turner) violated the public’s trust and stole money not only from the city of Dayton, but every resident of Dayton.”

In 2013, suspicious activity in the city’s “Morals Fund” financial account prompted an internal review. The account is money the city set aside to pay claims brought by citizens for which the city is liable, such as minor property damage caused by city workers, a press release said.

Turner, a city employee since 1996, was given authority in 2009 to sign approval of legitimate “moral obligation” claims against the city for $2,500 or less. Turner allegedly created false claims against the city in her friends’ names, signed approval for them and “everyone would then share in the proceeds,” Heck has said.

Turner, who was fired in December 2013, made $26.07 per hour. She reported directly to city law director John Danish, according to her personnel file. Turner’s 127-page file showed she was hired full-time in 1998 and received positive performance reviews.

The newspaper acquired a spreadsheet of moral obligation claims paid by the city. It showed there were between 104 and 162 claims each year between 2009 and 2013, mostly for property damage. The total amount paid out for those years was $568,410 with payouts reaching a high of $230,242 in 2012.

Turner’s was the only signature needed for claims of less than $2,500. “This betrayal by a public employee is extremely disappointing to me,” then-Dayton City Manager Tim Riordan said when Turner and others were indicted.

The Dayton police department started a complex investigation with assistance from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Secret Service and the Prosecutor Office’s Consumer Fraud and Economics Crime Division investigators.

Three people were charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft and complicity to commit grand theft. They were Shannon Richards, 39, of Beavercreek; Shareka Gibson, 29, of Trotwood; and Marlon Crawford, 42, of Dayton.

Four more people were charged with felony theft. They were Damon Ball II, 28, of Dayton; Essence Campbell, 34, of Clayton; Gregory Gibson, 27, of Dayton; and Jamie Van Winkle, 29, of Dayton.

Joshua Thomas, 29, of Dayton, was charged with grand theft.