Babcock indicted for theft of Port Clinton scrap metal

PORT CLINTON A Port Clinton administrator faces two felony charges in connection with stolen city-ow
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

 

PORT CLINTON

A Port Clinton administrator faces two felony charges in connection with stolen city-owned scrap metal.

Rich Babcock, 56, former safety-service director for the city, was indicted Tuesday on one felony count each of theft and theft in office by an Ottawa County grand jury. Investigators accuse Babcock of pocketing profits from the sale of the scrap metal.

Kenneth Heschel, former service department supervisor, was demoted to heavy equipment operator and not indicted for his role in the theft of scrap metal. He was granted immunity and will testify against Babcock, said Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan.

Mulligan pursued an indictment against Babcock since he was the more senior employee.

"He had a greater responsibility to look out for the interest of the city," Mulligan said.

Babcock resigned and Heschel was demoted last week after a city investigation determined that the two sold city-owned scrap metal from the old Water Works Building in January with the intent to contribute it to a cash slush fund.

The question of missing scrap metal arose in April when Heschel gave then-City Auditor Nancy O'Neal $1,200 without a receipt. Heschel said it was from selling city-owned scrap to Burns Iron & Metal Co. in Fremont.

Following the grand jury indictments, Ottawa County Sheriff's Detective Joe Vidal, who led the investigation, spoke with Heschel, who confessed that he and Babcock pocketed a portion of the money from the sale of scrap metal, Mulligan said.

"Heschel admitted that they took the scrap metal to Burns (Iron & Metal) with the intention to split the proceeds," Mulligan said. "It wasn't until rumors emerged about the theft that they put the $1,200 back and gave it to the city."

According to city policy, money along with written documentation needs to be submitted to the auditor's office. O'Neal therefore asked Heschel to provide a receipt to account for the $1,200 sale.

Babcock later provided a receipt to O'Neal in July, but the receipt was illegible and had no date. Investigators said they later determined that Heschel and Babcock demanded a receipt from Rich Farmer, general manager of Burns Iron & Metal. Farmer indicated in reports that he felt forced to give them a receipt and that there was no actual transaction for $1,200.

Through interviews with city employees, investigators said they also discovered that city employees at the city garage established a cash slush fund from the sale of scrap metal. The fund was typically used for coffee and soda.

Babcock and Heschel knew about the fund and never told the employees that there was anything wrong with it, according to court records. The slush fund was apparently established 40 to 45 years ago.

Mulligan said the prosecutor's office decided to focus on the $1,200 transaction.

"The other transactions, we concluded, didn't rise to the level of being a crime," Mulligan said.

Babcock was issued a summons, which requires him to show up for his initial court appearance 9:30 a.m. Sept. 21 in the Ottawa County Common Pleas Court.

The sheriff's office did not issue a warrant for his arrest since he was considered a non-violent offender and not a flight risk, Mulligan said.

If convicted, Babcock could spend two and a half years in jail and pay a $7,500 fine for both charges. The theft in office conviction would also prohibit Babcock from working in a governmental office.

Babcock and his attorney, John Coppeler, Port Clinton, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Councilwoman Debbie Hymore-Tester said that citizens should not be concerned and that they can still trust city government.

"I do feel that citizens can trust our elected officials and administration," Hymore-Tester said. "The city took the necessary actions (it) needed to take. Our system has checks and balances, and obviously our system is working."