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Criminal Law and Procedure

Enforcing the Law? Ohio Police Chief Used Department Credit Cards and Petty Cash To Stock Florida Condo

A former suburban Cleveland area top cop has been charged with defrauding his department out of at least $80,000 by making unauthorized purchases of clothing, tools and goods for his own personal use. A two-count criminal information was filed in federal court charging ex-Kirtland Hills police chief Gerald Smith, Jr. with one count of mail fraud and one count of destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation.

Smith joined the Kirtland Hills police department in 1978 and served as chief from 1988 until April 4, 2014. In this capacity, Smith was authorized to reimburse officers for work-related expenses and use village funds to procure necessary supplies, including the use of several village credit cards or lines of credit, according to the information.

The department also had petty cash fund, maintained in Smith’s office, in which employees submitted receipts with their name and the purpose of the expense written on it, for which they were then reimbursed, according to the information.

Smith made approximately $80,000 in personal expenditures using village credit cards between 2007 and 2014. Some of the items were used to partially furnish his Florida condominium. Items purchased include ceiling fans, plumbing supplies, vacuum cleaners, children’s lunch boxes and story books, clothing, televisions, book shelves, personal hygiene items, firearms, car repairs and more, according to the information.

Smith concealed these purchases by making false entries on receipts to make it appear they were made by others or made for official police business. By spreading the purchases out among different funds, he prevented the village from readily noticing large amounts of expenditures from one particular fund, according to the information.

For example, Smith went on a hunting trip to Pennsylvania in 2007. While on vacation, he made the following purchases on a Kirtland Hills credit card: knife sharpening ($70), items at an Army Navy store ($269.96), and items at a sporting goods store, including Pro Hunter pants and jacket and a shirt ($209.97). He then falsely wrote on the receipt that the sporting goods clothing was SWAT clothing for a Kirtland Hills officer, according to the information.

In 2007, Smith ordered several items online, including a $107.96 pair of women’s tan Ugg boots with the village Mastercard. Smith falsely wrote on the receipt “Road Dept Boots and Boots for (a Kirtland Hills police officer),” knowing the officer did not receive the boots, according to the information.

Smith also obtained Kirtland Hills money by submitting false claims to the petty cash fund. When Kirtland Hills officers went out to lunch, or when Smith took personal trips with officers and the group stopped for food, Smith at times asked for the receipts. He then submitted the receipts for petty cash reimbursement under the officers’ names but without their knowledge, taking the cash for himself, according to the information.

On March 17, 2014, Smith was placed on leave by Kirtland Hills and required to surrender his access badges, keys and all village property. He was also served by FBI agents with a federal grand jury subpoena, which required the production of certain documents and items.

On March 20, 2014, Smith secretly brought more than 50 items from his residence to a village storage shed and placed the items on the shelves, to give the appearance that these items belonged to the Village of Kirtland Hills. Among the items Smith returned were a drill, heater, dehumidifier, air purifier, camouflage tarps, socket set, channel locks, extension cords, hammer, hand saw and other items, according to the information.

“This defendant stole from the people he swore to serve,” Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohiosaid. “He used the public coffers to furnish his condo and pay for his meals. There will be consequences for public officials who violate the public’s trust.”

“To serve others and pursue justice is the oath all law enforcement promise to abide by,” Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland office said. “Unfortunately, this chief's self-interest and greed overrode his ethical conscious and his commitment to serve his community.”

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