NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio (WTRF) ‒ Suspended Dover Mayor Richard P. Homrighausen has been convicted by a jury, according to the Timesreporter.
The verdict was announced after morning deliberations Wednesday in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court by six men and six women of theft while he was in office and five other criminal charges.
The jury found found the eight-term mayor guilty of four counts of soliciting improper compensation for taking fees for performing four wedding ceremonies, and dereliction of duty for failing to deposit the payments in the city treasury.
In a charge relating to the 2013 hiring of his son, Peter, at the City Light Plant, he was acquitted of having unlawful interest in a public contract.
Due to the theft while he was in office, the conviction against Homrighausen has barred him from holding public office for life. Special Prosecutor Robert F. Smith of the Ohio Auditor’s Office states that this will be in effect upon his sentencing. Convictions for soliciting improper compensation carry a seven-year ban. His trial began November 8.
Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos has scheduled sentencing for January 17 and has ordered a background investigation to be completed before sentencing. Homrighausen’s potential sentence wasn’t immediately available.
Originally he was charged with taking $9,295 in fees for 231 weddings but the jury made an additional finding on the theft-in-office charge. They stated the value was less than $1,000, which apparently referred to the fees for the four weddings in the charges of soliciting improper compensation.
The lower dollar amount means that Homrighausen, 74, can keep his state pension, according to the prosecutor and the timesreporter.
The higher amount would have made the charge a third-degree felony. The lower amount makes the charge a lesser felony of the fifth degree.
Smith said the auditor’s office will file a civil suit for recovery to recoup the entire $9,295, minus any restitution ordered by the judge, and to require Homrighausen to reimburse the state for the $3,956 cost of the special audit that led to the criminal charges.
He said the city of Dover has the right to try to recoup the portion of the mayor’s $100,542 salary that Homrighausen has been paid since his suspension on May 4.
Indicted in March on an initial 15 counts, Homrighausen, had six tax charges dropped in July by the prosecutor, the Timesreporter reported.
On Tuesday, Thomakos acquitted Homrighausen on two of the original criminal charges. She found Homrighausen not guilty of one count of dereliction of duty for failure to deposit fees collected for wedding ceremonies between January 2014 and January 2021.
Her reasoning for the acquittal of this charge was the section of Ohio law cited in the charge does not apply to cities like Dover. Dover is organized under state law, as opposed to a charter city, which is organized under locally adopted rules.
The judge also found Homrighausen not guilty of representation by a public official, according to the Timesreporter. Homrighausen was charged for participating in, and ruling on as Mayor, an overtime grievance filed by his son, who was a City Light Plant employee, on Feb. 21, 2016. Thomakos ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Homrighausen on these charges.
In 2015 Homrighausen’s son and two other employees of the Dover Light Plant requested to be paid for overtime hours they had not worked. Homrighausen denied their request. The plant employees claimed they were entitled to compensation because they were not given an equal opportunity to work extra hours.
The Special Prosecutor said he was satisfied with the verdicts, but expects an appeal.
“I always respect the jury’s decision,” he said. “They heard the evidence. They heard the law. They have the hardest job of any of us, and that is making their decision, so I respect their verdict completely.”
Defense attorney Mark R. DeVan did not say whether his client would appeal.
Dover’s Interim Mayor Shane Gunnoe said he was “incredibly grateful to the state for their diligent review and prosecution of the matter. I’m relieved that justice has been served for the people of the city of Dover. I’m also grateful to our employees and all of those witnesses who testified to what they knew, before the state, the defense and the jury. Most importantly, I’m glad for the people of the city of Dover that we finally have some resolution to this matter.”
Gunnoe said the law provides for him to continue as interim mayor only until Homrighausen is removed. When Gunnoe leaves, the office will become vacant.
Council President Justin Perkowski would then become acting mayor. The Republican Central Committee in Dover will select someone to what is left of Homrighausen’s four-year term, which ends December 31, 2023.
In closing arguments according to Timesreporter, DeVan said to the jury while waving the son’s resume that Homrighausen did not require anyone to hire his son, but merely asked light plant supervisors, “Do you think this guy will work?”
Dover Law Director Douglas O’Meara was blamed by Devan to be dubbed a “puppet master”. Devan said that O’Meara controlled other witnesses who testified against Homrighausen. O’Meara told Devan he should have told Homrighausen not to perform the acts that led to the criminal charges.
The long time mayor’s administrative assistant, Eva Newsome, explained how she made arrangements for the weddings that Homrighausen conducted while she worked for him. Devan blamed Newsome for defaming testimony toward her former boss, and says she created a fictional story because she didn’t like her job or her boss. She now works for the Interim Mayor Gunnoe.
In their closing arguments, special prosectors from the Ohio Auditor’s Office stated that Homrighausen was not involved in illegal acts concerning his son or duties as mayor.
However, Special Prosecutor Samuel J. Kirk said the problem was with Homrighausen’s involvement with Peter’s hiring and that the application process was circumvented to show favoritism.
“The mayor of Dover jumped the line for his son,” Kirk said.
The wedding fees were kept by Homrighausen instead of being deposited in the city treasury, alleged the Special Prosecutor. Kirk disputed the defense contention that someone should have told the mayor to give the fees to the city.
Closing arguments followed testimony from Jason Hall, superintendent of Dover Light & Power, who stated he was under pressure to hire Peter Homrighausen after receiving his resume from his father.
Service Director David Douglas of Dover Light & Power said he thought he would be fired if he had not agreed to Peter’s hiring.
Both Douglas and Hall said the mayor made the final decisions about hiring.