SALEM, Ohio — The former treasurer of the Ohio Farmers Union may find herself behind bars in December, but the hope remains strong that the organization will survive the scandal.
Kathy Beutler, of Columbus Grove, Ohio, has pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated theft, a third-degree felony.
The theft occurred over a four-and-a-half year period between April 2005 and May 2009.
Beutler pleaded guilty to embezzling between $100,000 and $500,000.
Ken Egbert of the Ohio Attorney General’s office was appointed to act as special prosecutor in the case. He said 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.
A special prosecutor was appointed in the case because Beutler is the wife of Putnam County Sheriff James R. Beutler.
Egbert added bank records show large payments were made to the credit card companies.
The investigation reportedly began when the Ohio Farmers Union started noticing funds missing and dwindling from the payroll account.
Beutler will be sentenced Dec. 1 in a Putnam County courtroom on the third-degree felony charge. She could be receive up to five years in prison, but it is at the discretion of visiting Common Pleas Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld from Henry County.
The sentencing will ultimately be determined by the judge, but a pre-sentence investigation into Beutler will help him make his decision. The probe will collect background information to determine any prior incidents, look at her family and any other personal history. The analysis will also determine exactly how much money was taken, so the amount of restitution can be determined.
Currently, Beutler is free on her own recognizance with the condition that she not be involved with the Farmers Union except through her attorney in determining restitution amounts.
The farm group is continuing its mission to help family farmers through what OFU Vice President Bryan Wolfe describes as a financial nightmare.
“We are working through this financial mess. It definitely wasn’t the organization’s fault. We’ll come through this and are still operating,” Wolfe said.
The organization has laid off more than five people since the scandal was uncovered.
Wolfe said OFU did borrow money from the National Farmers Union organization for operating expenses. Wolfe said it was not a huge amount, but he couldn’t comment on an exact figure.
“Our situation will look a whole brighter after we get through this and into the new year,” Wolfe added.
Wolfe did say plans for the state convention are still under way for January 2010.