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, a first-degree felony
• Securing writings by deception, a third-degree felony
• Two charges of grand theft, a fourth-degree
• Forgery, a fifth-degree felony
• Attempted grand theft,a fifth-degree felony
• Theft from an elderly person or disabled adult, a third-degree felony
• Additional money laundering prohibitions, a third-degree felony, and
• Filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent returns, a fifth-degree felony.
The Historical Society’s board of trustees have moved on with a new director while waiting on the investigation.
“We wish to thank the office of the Auditor of the State of Ohio, Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel and Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson for all of their efforts regarding this matter,” President Tim Lane said in a statement on behalf of the PCHS board last week. “We have full confidence in the criminal justice system and await the outcome of this case.
“In the past 24 months the Preble County Historical Society’s board has hired a new director, implemented a strict financial management protocol, and reorganized the board of trustees,” Lane wrote. “PCHS has taken these measures to ensure the protection of the society assets and collections. The PCHS board values the efforts and contributions of our members, friends, sponsors and donors.”
Lane said the PCHS will release an additional statement at the conclusion of the criminal case against thier previous director.
Trial in the case against Lightner is scheduled to begin Monday, Dec. 14.