The Columbus Dispatch



Tuesday, May 19, 1998
NEWS   01A

By By Kevin Mayhood and Tim Doulin
Dispatch Staff Reporters

Illustration: Photo

Jesse D. Oddi is believed to have stolen $448,429 over the last 12 years from the Common Pleas Clerk of Courts office, according to a final tally by investigators.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien yesterday said a 12-week investigation winding to a close links Oddi to the money, which is missing from the clerk's juvenile traffic fine collections.

Oddi, a Republican, resigned as clerk last month after being charged with one felony count of theft in office in which he was accused of stealing $381 in fines. He is expected to face additional charges that could include multiple counts of theft in office, tampering with government documents and forgery.

O'Brien, also a Republican, said he plans to take the case to the grand jury within the next few weeks.

''The pattern of theft is there back to 1986,'' O'Brien said. ''That's what we can tell, because that's as far back as the records go.''

Investigators from the state Bureau of Identification and Investigation used computer records to link Oddi with missing money back to 1996, reconciliation records and adding machine tapes on file back to 1992 and case cards that reflect fines levied and amounts paid in each individual case back to 1986.

''We are seeking full restitution,'' O'Brien said.

Oddi's lawyers, Sam Shamansky and Bill Meeks, ''are evaluating the figures,'' Shamansky said. ''Having once received further documentation, we will advise our client and then meet with Ron O'Brien and discuss how we will proceed.''

To bolster the prosecution of Oddi, O'Brien is seeking a court order for samples of Oddi's handwriting. The handwriting will be compared with notations on adding machine tapes that investigators believe Oddi doctored to conceal the thefts from the juvenile traffic fine account.

Shamansky said the samples will be forthcoming. ''We will comply with every reasonable request.''

O'Brien said, ''The samples will be used to prove, through expert testimony of a handwriting expert, who wrote on the documents.''

Investigators said Oddi stole from the account by picking up or having delivered to him a money bag with the daily intake, individual receipts and an adding-machine tape that tallied the fines collected. Oddi would take cash and run a new tally on an adding machine to reflect the amount left in the bag, and later void receipts to cover the theft, investigators say.

When employees tally the fines collected on an adding machine, they write in the margin ''cash,'' ''checks'' or ''credit cards'' next to the corresponding subtotals, said Emily Shaw, fiscal director of the clerk's office.

''They initial it at the bottom,'' Shaw said.

Shaw has seen tapes with Oddi's initials on them and others' initials that appeared to have been written by Oddi, she said. ''He has pretty distinctive handwriting,'' Shaw said.

Shaw and chief deputy clerk Kenneth Griffith have been credited by investigators with triggering the probe by contacting an attorney who went to Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office with suspicions that Oddi was stealing money from the clerk's office.

Authorities say they have a videotape of Oddi, in his office, pocketing marked dollar bills from the April 6 juvenile fine collections.

Oddi, 49, was arrested four days later and resigned April 24.

Oddi's case has been bound over to Common Pleas Court. O'Brien has been waiting for investigators to finish searching financial records before scheduling a time to present the case to the grand jury.

Yet to be determined is which judge will be assigned the case. Judge David E. Cain, administrative judge of Common Pleas Court, said it shouldn't be a sitting judge in Franklin County. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer has indicated the case should be assigned to a visiting judge to avoid the public perception of conflict of interest, Cain said.

''I don't know if everyone on the bench would agree,'' Cain said. ''Some may want the case for the publicity. . . . But I think the perception would be that no matter what would happen down the road the public would say it happened because of a Franklin County judge - whether they thought the penalty was too hard or too easy.''

Oddi, who worked in the clerk's office 30 years, is well-known throughout Common Pleas Court. He was appointed clerk in 1995 and won election to the position a year later. In addition, he has contributed heavily to Republican officeholders and candidates in Franklin County.

Oddi was bonded for $40,000 when he served as clerk. County Administrator Guy Worley has asked the county's insurer whether Oddi was covered for employee theft from the days before he became clerk.

The county has a policy that will pay up to $200,000 per employee caught stealing. The policy took effect Jan. 1, 1995, when Oddi was chief deputy clerk, a nonelected position. He was appointed clerk Jan. 12, 1995.

Worley said the county had a policy with the same company in the four years prior and that a company agent had indicated Oddi might be covered for up to $100,000 during those years.

''We've forwarded on a letter asking if he would be covered during the years prior,'' Worley said. ''We have not heard back.''


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