OFU files lawsuit to regain over $1 million in embezzled funds

SALEM, Ohio — The fallout from an embezzlement scheme and alleged mismanagement appears to be continuing for the Ohio Farmers Union.

The Farmers Union has filed a lawsuit against former OFU treasurer Kathy Beutler, her husband Putnam County Sheriff Jim Beutler, former executive director Roger D. Crossgrove and the accounting firm, Lentol, Violet, Kienitz and Company. The case was filed Oct. 7 in Putnam County Common Pleas Court and is asking for over $1.2 million in damages.

Putnam County

The Putnam County Common Pleas Court judge will not be hearing the case because Beutler’s husband is Putnam County sheriff and disqualifies the resident judge because of the connection. Instead, Judge Sumner Eliot Walters will preside over the case.

The suit is brought against Kathy Beutler after she pleaded guilty in criminal court after reportedly embezzling money totaling more than $275,000, according to a forensic audit by a special prosecutor appointed to the case.

Credit cards. Beutler used the funds to pay on a number of credit card accounts.

She was using the money to pay overdue credit card bills, late payments and to pay down the cards with the highest interest rates but it “snowballed” on her.

The credit cards were used to pay for her daughters’ weddings and vacations.

Bank records reportedly show large payments were made to the credit card companies.

However, Attorney Byron S. Choka, told the Farm and Dairy, the total amount missing from the OFU has grown since the criminal case ended and the auditing continued. The amount he said stands at approximately $350,000, as more money is found to be missing from the coffers of the OFU.

Missing money

The missing money reaches as far back as April 2005 until Beutler’s termination from the OFU in 2009. The investigation reportedly began when the OFU started noticing funds missing from the payroll account.

She admitted to the theft from the Ohio Farmers Union, where she is accused of taking more than $260,000. She will be required to pay $80,000 in restitution and insurance will reportedly pay the rest.

Putnam County Sheriff Jim Beutler, Kathy Beutler’s husband, is named in the lawsuit because the funds were deposited into the Beutlers’ joint checking account.

The suit states the Sheriff Beutler knew, or should have known, about the funds being deposited into a joint checking account with his wife and subsequently spent money from the account.

Other plaintiffs

Roger Crossgrove is listed in the lawsuit as being employed by Ohio Farmer’s Union as its executive director from 2006 until his termination in 2009. Crossgrove is also listed as having served as vice president, secretary/treasurer, executive committee member, chairperson of the finance committee and the Fulton County branch president for Ohio Farmer’s Union.

The lawsuit filed against Crossgrove states he “intentionally failed to perform his duties as executive director so that funds and assets were mismanaged, wasted and diverted.”

Choka said the lawsuit includes Crossgrove because of decisions the leader made by himself involving funds being spent without the permission of the OFU board.

The claim states Crossgrove signed documents and bound Farmer’s Union to obligations beyond the scope of his duties.

Crossgrove is also being accused of settling agreements by paying sums of money to settle civil complaints brought by employees of the farm organization that were also beyond his authority and unauthorized by the board. He is being sued for over $250,000.

General accountant

The fourth defendant listed in the lawsuit is Lentol, Violet, Kienitz and Company which is listed as being the general accountant for Ohio Farmer’s Union since 1991. The company is based in Lima, Ohio.

They are being sued because of the audits they performed for Ohio Farmer’s Union from 2005 to 2008 incorrectly represented the assets of the Farmer’s Union, which the lawsuit claims allowed Kathy Beutler to embezzle a significant amount of funds from the Farmer’s Union.

The lawsuit claims the accounting firm failed to disclose or find the embezzlement, which the suit claims negligence on their part.

Six months served. In the meantime, Beutler could file for judicial release at the end of this month.

Beutler was sentenced to three years in jail and is currently housed in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

Assistant State Attorney General Ken Egber confirmed Beutler would be eligible to file for release after she has completed six months at the institution.

The decision whether or not she is released on probation would then be up to the sentencing judge, Henry County Common Pleas Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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