After a lull of several weeks with no new public developments, the case against Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings picks up again at 1 p.m. Wednesday with a final pretrial hearing in preparation for the Nov. 7 trial date.
Hastings was indicted in July by a Highland County grand jury on four felony counts related to election falsification, theft, theft in office and tampering with records.
The investigation against Hastings was led by a special prosecutor, Robert F. Smith, from the office of Ohio Auditor Dave Yost. Shortly after Hastings was served with the indictments, Yost issued a statement saying that the charges “involve allegedly listing a false address on his Declaration of Candidacy form; for claiming a city refund of $500 for a vacant building he owned and for altering documents related to the refund, and; for instructing a contractor to use city dumpsters to dispose of construction debris.”
On Friday morning, a deposition was taken from Heather Collins, an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office. Smith and James Boulger, Hastings’ attorney, questioned Collins under oath in the county prosecutor’s office because she may be unable to attend the trial. Also Friday, a document filed by the prosecution indicated a witness list of 27 individuals.
The case has garnered statewide and even national attention, in part due to Hastings’ career as a nationally-known standup comedian.
On Friday morning, Hastings was again on the Bob & Tom Show, a nationally syndicated program on which he often appears. During the show, frequent contributor Heywood Banks debuted a song he wrote called “The Ballad of Drew Hastings,” which makes light of the case against the mayor.
The lyrics – some sung, some spoken – state that Hillsboro is the “home of a hardened criminal.” The song recounts that a grand jury was convened which is usually reserved “for racketeering and narcotics offenses,” and features a chorus with the words, “What was his crime, was it murder most foul?” and then adds asides such as, “Well, he’s charged with illegal use of a dumpster” and “he owns an apartment and a farm.” The song notes that Hastings was served with the indictments while he was having lunch at Bob Evans. Saying the penalties could add up to 40 years in jail, the lyrics add, “That’s some dumpster.”
Hastings made no comment after the song was played other than to say he was “honored in an odd way.” The song can be found on the show’s website.
The case against Hastings began last December, first as a civil case when five Hillsboro citizens signed a complaint accusing Hastings of malfeasance over the rebate of a $500 vacant property fee he had paid. About two hours later, the separate criminal investigation was launched, with sheriff’s officials serving search warrants at the Hillsboro city building.
The $500 rebate issue stems from an authorization for the refund containing the stamped signature of Todd Wilkin, the city safety and service director. Wilkin later told investigators he did not authorize the refund or authorize his signature to be used.
The civil case was eventually dismissed by Judge Kevin Greer because of an Ohio Supreme Court decision that ruled that alleged malfeasance in one term could not be prosecuted in another term.
But the timing of the civil case – brought by individuals who have publicly opposed the mayor on various issues – led to accusations that the simultaneous launch of the criminal investigation was politically driven.
Fred Beery, the city law director who, by law, represented the citizens in the civil suit, at one point told The Times-Gazette that the idea for the suit came from “the law enforcement community.” Hastings initially called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
The investigation stretched through June, with twists and turns, including on Feb. 4 shortly after 10 p.m. when state auditor and county sheriff investigators served a search warrant at Hastings’ Hillsboro home, ordering the mayor’s visiting father-in-law out of the residence. The search warrant stated that the purpose of the search was to find proof of residency, and investigators photographed and itemized underwear, bras, children’s toys, appliances, a bed and other items. An affidavit with the search warrant described comparisons of water usage at Hastings’ various residences.
In July, a grand jury returned the four felony indictments against the mayor. At an arraignment on Aug. 1, visiting Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove entered not guilty pleas on behalf of Hastings after the defense waived the reading of the indictments.
Hastings was first elected mayor in 2011 with 62 percent of the vote, and reelected in November 2015 with 59 percent.
During his first term, he proposed a controversial measure to disband Hillsboro’s longtime fire department and replace it with coverage from the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District through a contract arrangement. That plan was eventually approved by city council in September 2013 by a 4-3 vote.
Also in 2013, a then-Hillsboro police officer filed a “citizen’s complaint” against Hastings, claiming the mayor was not a resident of Hillsboro and acknowledging he had spent patrol time attempting to locate the mayor’s vehicle during the nighttime hours. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office concluded there was a lack of evidence showing Hastings was not a resident.
Last December, Hastings apologized for a Facebook post after some local residents, many of them African-American, came to a city council meeting and said the post, and others before it, were of a racist nature.
When the indictments against Hastings were returned, Yost’s statement added, “Mr. Hastings has long complained about the length of time a careful, proper investigation takes. That investigation is now complete, and the evidence will be made public appropriately, in a court of law. I am confident the jury of his peers will find that evidence amounts to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.