PREBLE COUNTY – After a lengthy investigation, a partnership between the Auditor of State and the Preble County Prosecutor and Sheriff’s offices led to the indictment of former Preble County Historical Society Executive Director Mellanie “Jane” Lightner.
Lightner was indicted on nine charges, including Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity, Theft from an Elderly Person, Grand Theft from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission, as well as Forgery.
Lightner pleaded not guilty on Tuesday morning, Sept. 29.
“This was a ball of yarn that just kept unraveling,” Auditor Yost said. “She stole from taxpayers, the Preble County Historical Society, and even worse, she took advantage of an elderly donor.”
“I certainly appreciate the assistance provided by Auditor Yost and his staff in this investigation,” Preble County Sheriff Michael Simpson said. “It was important that we conduct a full and thorough investigation in order to identify potential victims and have a complete picture of what was occurring.”
After 2006, the Preble County Historical Society did not employ a bookkeeper. In 2014, the board of trustees found that former Executive Director Mellanie “Jane” Lightner had misappropriated approximately $14,000 in grant money from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission. The Historical Society contacted the Preble County Sheriff’s office, and because the grant funds were public dollars, the Auditor of State’s Public Integrity Assurance Team was called in to conduct forensic audit work.
Upon investigating, the Auditor of State’s office found that Lightner had been using her position to hide financial transactions from the board of trustees and open accounts without board approval. She used forged board signatures to open a line of credit with Fifth Third Bank and charged more than $225,000 – which was ultimately paid off by an elderly donor.
Lightner allegedly stole more than $64,000 from the Preble County Historical Society and laundered $13,710 from the elderly donor. In addition, Lightner failed to declare income on her tax return.
In September 2014, Lightner wrote a letter to the board of trustees demanding repayment of $41,465 “for various loans” she supposedly made to the historical society. The Auditor of State’s office found that the “loans” came from the line of credit, rather than Lightner herself.
Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel tapped Auditor of State Assistant Chief Legal Counsel Robert Smith to assist as special prosecutor in the case. Lightner was indicted on nine charges:
• Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity (F1)
• Securing Writings by Deception (F3)
• 2 charges of Grand Theft (F4)
• Forgery (F5)
• Attempted Grand Theft (F5)
• Theft from an Elderly Person or Disabled Adult (F3)
• Additional Money Laundering Prohibitions (F3)
• Filing Incomplete, False, and Fraudulent Returns (F5)
Trial in the case against Lightner scheduled to begin Monday, Dec. 14.
Watch for updates and additional information in upcoming editions of The Register-Herald.