Former York Township Fiscal Officer Dawn Lee Sentenced To 10 Years

Dawn Lee, former fiscal officer for York Township and the York Water Authority will spend a decade behind bars for crimes including theft in office and tampering with evidence.

Lee, 48, of Powhatan Point, entered pleas of guilty in March to two counts of theft in office and one count of tampering with records, third-degree felonies, and two counts of failing to remit withholding taxes, fifth-degree felonies. She was sentenced Monday before Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra.

She had been charged as a result of a two-year investigation. She did not seek re-election when her term ended in 2018.

Stephanie Anderson, public integrity officer with the Ohio State Auditor’s office assigned to prosecute the case, reviewed the findings in detail for close to half an hour before sentencing.

She said in September of 2015 York Township was found to be “unauditable” by the state.

“The financial papers of the township were in such disarray that the state auditors can’t even come in to perform their responsibilities,” she said. “That began a series of events that set into motion discovering what Dawn Lee had done, to not only the township but also the York Water Authority.”

Anderson said the investigators were met with constant opposition, lack of cooperation and delays from Lee. Anderson added that this resistance was also the case for the water authority records.

She called Ohio forensic audit manager Erin Kelly to the stand. She testified about her investigation of Lee’s expenditures.

“She was making purchases for the water authority and the township, while not indicating what items were for which entity, then only one of the entities would pay the bill,” she said. Kelly said this was among her longest investigations, taking about 1,300 hours.

Anderson noted numerous personal purchases and failure to remit payroll taxes.

She called York Township trustee and water authority board member Curtis Wisvari. He said the board is composed of five people serving an aging population with fewer than 200 meter connections.

“The hard-working customers of York Townships’ trust was broken when Dawn Lee abused her position as treasurer. The abuse and misuse of the position has cost the board and its customers dearly. First off, the trust of the community was fractured.”

He described further costs in hiring an accounting firm to reconstruct the records, and the cost of a forensic audit.

“The board was running in the red month after month. The system incurred a major line break, and the board would need to get a loan to make those repairs. In order to do that, it had to prove it could repay the loan, but with the monthly revenue running in the red, the board was forced to raise its rates,” Wisvari said. “Arrogance and ignorance is an evil combination.”

York Township trustee president Ronald Graham also spoke, describing shameless deception on Lee’s part.

“We all trusted Dawn when I came into office,” he said. “The deception, unbelievable. … We didn’t see it coming.”

He added that the township has not been eligible for grant funding since the investigation has been ongoing, and he could not say how much this might have lost the township.

Defense attorney Meagan Kirchner asked Vavra to consider that the full restitution of $123,000 for funds and associated costs have been paid and that Lee has taken responsibility. Kirchner also pointed out Lee’s lack of prior criminal history. She asked that a lower sentence be applied so that Lee could continue working to repay her family for providing the money.

Vavra applied a total sentence of 10 years.

Lee’s husband, Ryan Reed Lee, 49, of Powhatan Point, is set to go to trial June 3. He is charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, receiving stolen property, complicity to theft in office, failure to file tax returns, receiving stolen property and theft in office. The state believes he accepted payments from the township for work not performed. Ryan Lee also allegedly was paid in excess of what is permitted for work as a meter reader/meter technician for the water authority.

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