The Columbus Dispatch


Thursday, January 8, 2004
NEWS   03C

By Kevin Mayhood

The former court clerk who stole $448,621 from Franklin County will be back in court today to find out whether he'll be freed or locked up for 11 more months.

Jesse Oddi, who was imprisoned Dec. 9, 1998, is expected to argue that the county has been repaid and he's behaved well enough to deserve early release from his sentence.

County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he will argue that Oddi, who became the target of public outrage when his 13 years of stealing became known in 1998, should remain in prison.

The much-publicized case puts the spotlight on Common Pleas Judge John A. Connor, who already is under public scrutiny because he faces a drunken-driving charge in Florida and he's running for re-election this year.

"For a person with no prior criminal record, who was an exemplary citizen otherwise, five years is adequate punishment,'' said William Meeks, Oddi's attorney. Meeks pointed out that Oddi pleaded guilty to 49 criminal charges, accepted responsibility, had no disciplinary problems in prison, and the county recouped its loss.

In a memorandum filed yesterday, O'Brien said the attorneys and Connor discussed early release when Oddi pleaded guilty, but it was contingent upon his making restitution.

"Other persons unrelated to Mr. Oddi caused the county to be made whole,'' O'Brien said.

He said his office had to argue with insurers, provide documentation and more to obtain $140,000 from the companies. That money helped reimburse Oddi's thefts. Oddi and his family repaid the rest.

O'Brien said Oddi used his position first while an employee in the office of the Common Pleas Clerk of Courts and later as the elected clerk, to steal juvenile traffic payments over 13 years.

Allowing him out early from his six-year sentence only would demean the seriousness of such abuse of public trust, O'Brien said.

"In the state capital, with 35,000 governmental employees here . . . it doesn't send the right message that the judicial system should send,'' he said.

Oddi was arrested after a camera planted in his office caught him stealing cash collected from traffic fines and creating false receipts to cover his tracks. Police reviewed all existing records from the account, back to 1985. In each year, Oddi stole thousands of dollars.

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