The Columbus Dispatch


Saturday, May 10, 2003
NEWS   01B

By Randy Ludlow

Illustration: Photo

Clad in a prison uniform, Fairfield County Municipal Judge Don S. McAuliffe pleaded not guilty yesterday in federal court to an arson-for-profit scheme.

U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley set trial for June 23 for the colleague he addressed as "Judge,'' but he warned the trial could be delayed to July 7 by an unrelated case.

In a strong voice, McAuliffe repeatedly answered, "Not guilty, your honor,'' when asked his pleas to an indictment alleging he conspired to set fire to his Buckeye Lake home and fraudulently collected $235,000 in insurance proceeds.

McAuliffe, 58, has been jailed without bond since his April 24 arrest on charges of using fire to commit a felony, conspiracy and two counts each of mail fraud and money laundering.

McAuliffe is accused of conspiring with his sometime girlfriend, Beth Westminster, and Daniel "D.J.'' Faller to burn down his lakefront home in Millersport by tilting a halogen lamp against a wall on March 2, 2002.

Westminster and Faller later were wired by federal agents to record conversations with McAuliffe, who appeared to have threatened to kill the witnesses and discussed a plot to flee in tapes played in court.

McAuliffe, a judge for six years, should continue to be held pending trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said yesterday.

But William Meeks and Sam Shamansky, the Columbus lawyers representing McAuliffe, said they will ask Marbley next week to reverse a magistrate's decision and set bail.

The defense attorneys left the federal courthouse with a box of documents and tape cassettes -- copies of the evidence prosecutors might use at trial.

Meeks said his client will not seek a plea bargain to lessen the maximum 12 1/2 -year sentence he faces if convicted on all charges.

"We are currently collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses,'' Meeks said. A trial "is the direction this case is currently heading.''

While ballots cast for him were invalid, McAuliffe received 13 percent of the vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday. After his arrest, McAuliffe withdrew from his race against Fairfield County Administrator Pat Harris.

The felony indictment against McAuliffe disqualified him from serving as a judge, but he continues to collect his $101,100 annual salary. If convicted of a felony, he would be removed from the bench.

In the wake of McAuliffe's indictment, state Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, this week reintroduced a bill that would authorize the governor to suspend elected officials accused of certain crimes. A three-member commission appointed by the governor would review cases and make recommendations.

Schaffer introduced the bill last session after then-Fairfield County Sheriff Gary DeMastry refused to step aside before his conviction for theft in office.

Dispatch reporter Lee Leonard contributed to this story.

Don S. McAuliffe is accused of setting fire to his Buckeye Lake home to collect $235,000 in insurance.

All content herein is 2003 The Columbus Dispatch and may not be republished without permission.