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Auditor: Bellaire’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund Owed $23,000

BELLAIRE — The Ohio Auditor’s Office wants the village’s chief of police and a former officer to give $23,000 back to Bellaire’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber’s Office claims that Police Chief Richard Flanagan and former patrolman Michael Wheeler owe $15,603 and $7,835, respectively, for allegedly unsupported expenditures made from the fund over the course of a few years.

Flanagan, who was a lieutenant with the department at the time of the alleged transactions, declined to comment Friday.

Wheeler on Friday provided the following statement regarding the audit:

“I complied with every request of the village of Bellaire and my chief as to documentation and how to handle the funds for controlled buys. So while I along with Lt. Flanagan was trying to take dangerous drug offenders off the streets of Bellaire, I documented every single transaction. The documentation was good enough that my actions resulted in roughly a 90 percent conviction rate for the cases I handled.”

Wheeler maintains that his documentation regarding the expenditures was thorough and contributed to a high conviction rate.

“I even copied the actual cash and put the copies in the case file so that every cent could be accounted for and it could be traced and documented. With my documentation, the Belmont County Prosecutors were able to convict the offenders. I have provided copies to the auditors and my copies are available for their inspection. All of my documentation is on file with the village of Bellaire and has been made available to the state auditors. I haven’t any idea why I’m being required to pay these funds back,” Wheeler added.

The Auditor’s Special Investigations Unit claims that “undercover drug buys and other miscellaneous law enforcement expenditures either did not have supporting documentation to substantiate the purchase or did not have sufficient documentation to support the purpose or amount of the expenditure.”

The unit’s findings outline Flanagan’s alleged role in the transactions.

“Prior to becoming the Village’s current police chief, Richard Flanagan was a lieutenant in the police department and was responsible for completing undercover drug buys by utilizing the village’s LETF monies. During the period July 2006 through December 2013, the village issued checks payable to Chief Flanagan, who then cashed the checks to use for various undercover drug buys and other miscellaneous law enforcement expenditures,” the release notes.

“Similarly, Michael Wheeler was a patrolman in the police department and was also completing undercover drug buys with the village’s LETF monies. From December 2013 through June 2015, Patrolman Wheeler used village LETF monies for various undercover drug buys and other miscellaneous law enforcement expenditures. Both were responsible for expenditures that did not have adequate documentation,” the auditor’s office notes.

The auditor’s office claims Flanagan had 162 unsupported expenditures totaling $15,603, while Wheeler had 49, totaling $7,835. The auditor has issued a “finding for recovery” against both men.

“The Village’s Police Department conducts undercover drug buys utilizing the Village’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund monies as part of working assigned cases. Village police officers are responsible for maintaining a log of the LETF monies received and spent on individual undercover drug buys as well as a written summary detailing the drug buy and maintaining an Evidence Submission Sheet and Laboratory Report for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as proof that undercover drugs were purchased and submitted for analysis. However, the Village did not have a formal policy documenting the requirements for undercover drug buys,” according to the auditor’s office.

Village Solicitor Michael Shaheen on Friday said both the village and Flanagan cooperated throughout the auditor’s process and inquiry.

“The chief attempted to provide additional information to the auditor, but based upon the findings it is unclear what, if any, of that was considered,” Shaheen said. “The chief will be hiring his own attorney as I am the attorney for the village.”

According to the audit report, LETF money is garnered via sales of seized items.

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