County Will Try To Recover Compensation Given To Kelly

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The Athens County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to file a civil action against former sheriff Patrick Kelly to try to recover compensation Kelly received while under suspension awaiting trial.

Kelly was found guilty Feb. 12 in Athens County Common Pleas Court of 18 felony charges and is scheduled to be sentenced March 20. The Ohio law under which Kelly was suspended states he was to continue to receive compensation while suspended, but also allows the county to file a civil suit to recover that compensation once he was found guilty.

County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said “compensation” is not defined in the code, but Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as money or anything of value. He said the county will be seeking the salary paid to Kelly and the county’s contribution to his medical insurance, retirement and Medicare tax.

Blackburn said a total amount hasn’t been determined, and his office will be working with the Athens County Auditor’s Office to determine if other compensation costs should be included.

County Auditor Jill Thompson could not be reached for comment Thursday on whether any costs to the county have been calculated.

The Messenger has previously reported, based on information from the auditor’s office, that Kelly was paid $57,588 while under suspension, although that figure includes a small percentage normally reimbursed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

A lawsuit will be filed after Kelly is sentenced, Blackburn said.

He said Ohio PERS has been asked to refund the county’s contribution to Kelly’s retirement, but no response has been received.

There are at least a couple of statutes that could impact how the PERS situation is handled.

Kelly was convicted of several counts of theft in office, and that law says the judge “shall” require restitution for “all of the property or the service that is the subject of the offense…” The statute also provides a procedure for going after pension money to pay that restitution.

Kelly was also convicted of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, and there is section of Ohio law governing forfeiture of retirement benefits if a person is convicted of that offense.

Both of those laws would allow Kelly to request a hearing on the matter of his pension account.

The commissioners’ decision to pursue a civil action against Kelly was made after a closed-door meeting Thursday with Blackburn and County Assistant Prosecutor John Haseley.

“We think it’s the right thing to do,” Commission President Lenny Eliason said afterward, “because there is a cost to the county … and the law provides for it.”