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State review launched after ABC 6 investigation into prosecutor's bank accounts

Costly expense receipts (WSYX/WTTE)

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost is calling for a review of the Athens County Prosecutor’s outside bank accounts after ABC 6 On Your Side Investigators uncovered questionable trips and expenditures.

ABC 6 requested and reviewed thousands of records from several Ohio prosecutors and sheriffs uncovering everything from expensive meals, watches, flowers, coffee, extended trips and other gifts. While it was found these expenses appear legal, the Special Audit Task Force is looking to see if money spent was used for what it was intended.

Auditor of State Dave Yost reviewed Investigator Brooks Jarosz’s On Your Side investigation and saw the receipts for the high-priced meals turned in by Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

“Politicians should not eat better on the public dime than the taxpayers put on their own table,” Yost said.

One $76 meal at Disney was for crab cakes and a New York strip steak, a receipt shows. Another shows a group dinner at Ruth’s Chris for nearly $400 and other meals enjoyed a day before or a day after the conferences, which were many times paid for by the public.

“How is this legal?” Jarosz asked.

“What’s legal and what’s right are two different things,” Yost replied.

CLICK HERE TO READ AND WATCH ABC 6 INVESTIGATION INTO QUESTIONABLE SPENDING BY OHIO PROSECUTORS AND SHERIFFS.

Auditor Yost teaches a class to new prosecutors and sheriffs with a focus on the appropriate use of the Furtherance of Justice Fund, among other outside bank accounts. The funds are supposed to be used for crime fighting, investigations and continuing education.

“In your report, I’m much more concerned about this trip for continuing legal education where there was no educational credit claimed,” Yost said.

In San Diego, Blackburn and two other Athens County employees registered for the National District Attorneys Association Career Prosecutors Conference. Registration fees topped $1,000 and all three said they would claim continuing legal education credits. However, the Ohio Supreme Court, which keeps track of those legal credits, have no record of Blackburn ever attending.

Blackburn contacted ABC 6 about the trip in an email explaining his attendance at the conference. He attributed some of his time to developing cases back in Athens that pulled him from class. He also provided a certificate of completion of the course.

ABC 6 contacted the NDAA to verify daily attendance at conferences. The group would not provide any rosters and said prosecutors are expected to attend all sessions unless other arrangements are made.

Jarosz confronted Blackburn after a day at the country club several weeks ago to ask questions.

“What about when you’re going on some of these trainings and you’re not turning in any of the credits with the Supreme Court?” Jarosz asked.

“We’re getting the training, we’re making the contacts,” Blackburn responded. “We are getting things done and I’m awfully proud of what my office has done.”

Now a special audit will dig deeper into any unanswered questions.

“Do you think this is an abuse of power?” Jarosz asked Yost.

“I think it’s wrong,” Yost replied. “It’s not something I would do. It’s not something I could justify to the voters.”

ABC 6 On Your Side is looking into outside bank accounts of prosecutors and sheriffs beyond Athens County. If you have any information about potential abuse or government waste with these funds, send an email to tips@abc6onyourside.com

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