Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings is the subject of an investigation led by the office of state Auditor Dave Yost. On Tuesday Hastings attended a conference in Columbus hosted by Yost and focused on ethics training and “emerging trends in fraud investigation and prevention.”
Why did Hastings attend an ethics and anti-fraud and corruption conference hosted by the office leading an investigation against him?
“Are you familiar with the Elvis Costello song, ‘Watching the Detectives?’” Hastings joked by telephone late Tuesday afternoon. “”He’s singing about watching the people who are watching him. That’s what I’m doing.”
Hastings said he attended the event for three reasons – he wanted to know how investigations start, wondering, “Can any Tom, Dick or Harry or disgruntled idiot off the street get one started?” as well as learning more about the relationship between a state investigative office and local law enforcement, and, finally, “I’m genuinely curious about how they could be spending tens of thousands of dollars” to investigate him.
“I’ve only spent $350 (for registration) and two nights in a hotel of taxpayer dollars to come up here, and if I can gain any insight into what this whole thing has been about, it’s a small cost. I’ve pretty much been a fly on the wall.”
Hastings said he has worn a name tag and introduced himself to various attendees, sometimes sharing, “I’m under investigation by this hosting organization.”
He said the conference, which lasts through Wednesday, has been educational. He said he particularly enjoyed a workshop called, “Doing the Right Thing: Learning from the Best, Worst and Most Challenging Ethical Dilemmas.”
“That was a really good one,” said Hastings. “They were focusing on whistleblower cases. Somebody stuck to their ethics even though they lost their job or suffered some other setback.”
Hastings said that while he has not been a whistleblower in the legal sense, it occurred to him that he is often involved in controversy and has been the subject of retaliation, as he sees it, because “I’ve been kind of a whistleblower exposing the good old boy system, and I’ve got the same problems as a whistleblower.”
Hastings said he has not seen anyone else from Hillsboro or Highland County attending the conference, but “anybody could benefit from just the reminders of the importance of ethics, whether in your professional or personal life. It was kind of like a lesson you would get at church.”
According to information from Yost’s office, the conference began Tuesday morning when “almost 700 people packed the Columbus Convention Center ballroom to learn about emerging trends in fraud – including sessions on gangs and financial crime, charitable fraud, conducting forensic investigations and fraud involving mobile devices.”
On Tuesday morning, Yost welcomed attendees to the conference, promising they would learn “the state of the art in protecting public integrity” from experts in state government and nationally.
Topics at the conference included “Preventing, Detecting and Deterring Fraud,” “Financial Statement Fraud,” “Understanding Body Language,” “Catch Me If You Can: Emerging Fraud Schemes and Challenges for Law Enforcement,” and “Doing the Right Thing: Learning from the Best, Worst and Most Challenging Ethical Dilemmas.”
Yost – a former county prosecutor – “said the root of any thorough investigation is verifying what you see and hear,” according to a press release on the event.
“The ability and perseverance to ask ‘why’ is the first tool in the tool kit to identify fraud,” Yost said.
“There’s a growing sense out there that too much of our public sector is corrupt and not working in our best interests,” Yost said. “Part of the increasing interest in our conference is the strong desire to get corruption out of our city halls, our schools and our corporate board rooms – everywhere.”
This is the 16th year for the training program, a collaboration between the auditor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).
“The conference brings together hundreds of fraud-prevention professionals like accountants, attorneys and law enforcement officials to learn the latest developments in fraud and how to combat it,” according to Yost’s office. “The Emerging Trends in Fraud Investigation and Prevention Conference features expert speakers like Jim Ratley of ACFE, Cybercrime reporter Brian Krebs, Walt Manning of Investigations MD, and Matthew Smith, president of Smith, Rolfes and Skavdahl Company, LPA.”
Yost’s office became involved in the Hastings investigation when Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss appointed an investigator from Yost’s office, Robert F. Smith, as special prosecutor in the case back in January.
Along with Hastings, recent affidavits and search warrants have indicated that the mayor’s administrative assistant, Debbie Sasonse, is also being investigated. Personal computers belonging to Sansone and her husband were recently confiscated for forensic evidence. A warrant and affidavit stated that investigators were looking for evidence of theft in office, tampering with records, forgery and obstructing official business.
Previous affidavits have indicated investigators are also looking into issues involving a $500 rebate Hastings received for a vacant property fee he had paid, allegations that Hastings had used a city dumpster for personal items and that he had asked a witness to “lie” about the use of the dumpster.
Affidavits have also detailed how investigators have compared water usage in various places Hastings has claimed as residences, along with documenting appliances and clothing found in the mayor’s Hillsboro home, apparently in regard to an allegation of election falsification.
After the Sansones’ home computers were confiscated, a spokesman for Yost’s office said that officials again had no comment on the status of the investigation. Hastings has said he looks forward to refuting the allegations if formal charges are brought.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.