Former Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton broke down in tears Wednesday in federal court as he pleaded guilty to theft.
"I resigned from the Genoa Police Department Jan. 13 — ended my career there," Bratton said, struggling to get through his statement in U.S. Northern District Court in Toledo.
Bratton, 60, was indicted Jan. 9 on a single count of theft, stemming from his misuse of federal funds when he served as sheriff in Ottawa County. He became sheriff in 2004 and resigned in 2011.
In May 2011, during Ottawa County’s regular financial audit, auditors examined the sheriff’s Furtherance of Justice account, or FOJ funds, which are designated for goods or services that enhance law enforcement.
An investigation then revealed Bratton used the FOJ funds to purchase personal items, such as shoes, belts, neckties, reading glasses, cigars, a haircut, books, a watch, a coat and Cedar Point tickets. He also used the money to cover a copay after a medical appointment.
The investigation, headed by the Ohio Auditor's Special Audit Task Force, found about $9,000 worth of personal purchases. In some cases, Bratton used a credit card linked to the FOJ account to make the purchases.
Earlier this month, Bratton resigned from his job as Genoa's police chief, a position he held for the past two years.
As he appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary on Wednesday, Bratton cried as he recalled his law enforcement career
He also tried to paint a more sympathetic picture of his actions.
"I would use (FOJ funds) to buy gift cards for students in the county," Bratton said.
Since the indictment, Bratton has repeatedly said he reimbursed the county as soon as the allegations were brought to light.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Crawford, who is prosecuting the case, disagrees.
Bratton did not reimburse all of the funds right away, Crawford said.
"Ultimately, he did (pay back all funds)," Crawford said, adding that he's unsure of how much money was paid back on time, and how much was paid later.
Crawford declined to comment when asked who initiated the investigation after the special audit a few years ago.
Bratton is scheduled for sentencing May 28. The maximum prison sentence he could face is 10 years.