George Hiotis

State Auditor: Former Somerset Police Chief Pleads Guilty to Theft in Office

by George Hiotis on August 9, 2018 at 5:10 pm

The Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost says former Somerset Police Chief Jeremy VanDermark pleaded guilty Thursday to theft in office for using the Perry County Village’s credit card to pay for personal purchases for his families personal vehicles.  Yost says he also used the credit card to pay for testosterone supplement and other transactions.  The Auditor say the total cost of his improper purchases is nearly $5,737.

VanDermark entered his plea to the fourth-degree felony before Perry County Common Pleas Court Judge Tina Boyer and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 27. Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for the Auditor of State’s office, acted as special prosecutor in the case.

“Theft of taxpayer funds is always disturbing, but it is particularly offensive and damaging when it occurs at the hands of an individual wearing the badge of law enforcement,” Auditor Dave Yost said. “Communities big and small must establish greater controls around credit cards because greed can corrupt even those who should be beyond reproach.”

VanDermark was police chief between 2013 and Dec. 5, 2016, when he resigned. His resignation came after Village Council discovered he purchased a set of tires for his personal car and had the village pay the $547 bill under the pretense that they were for a police cruiser.

Further investigation by Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost’s Public Integrity Assurance Team revealed VanDermark used the village credit card to purchase meals, fuel for his personal vehicle and car washes totaling $3,078. He also used the credit card for $1,531 in other purchases.

Investigators also found VanDermark falsely claimed to be a certified canine handler and took possession of Bowie, a Village Police Department canine, who a certified canine handler determined was not performing as required. VanDermark was not certified and never used Bowie as a police canine but continued to bill the village for Bowie’s vet bills at a cost of $410. He claimed to have purchased Progene as a medicine for the dog to help with his seizures. In fact, Progene is a testosterone supplement that VanDermark admitted was for his personal use.

Investigators also found the former chief had a radio and speakers installed in his daughter’s car as a Christmas present. He billed these to the village, and altered the invoice, stating the bill was for a police cruiser. The cost was $171.

Auditor Yost issued a special report on credit card fraud in governments in July 2017. The report detailed $1.2 million in thefts via government credit cards since 2011, and provided a Best Practices newsletter to local officials to safeguard their resources.

Among other things, the Auditor recommends restricting the number of people with access to credit cards, requiring detailed receipts for credit-card transactions, setting spending limits, and a list of proper and improper credit card uses.

House Bill 312, introduced in July by State Rep. Kirk Schuring (Canton) and Rep. Dave Greenspan (Westlake) with the support of Auditor Yost, established tighter controls over credit cards. It was signed into law recently by Gov. John Kasich.