EATON — Former Preble County Historical Society Director Jane Lightner entered guilty pleas last week for embezzling funds during her time with the PCHS.
On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Lightner pleaded guilty to one count of “securing writings by deception,” a felony of the third degree and one count of “grand theft,” a felony of the fourth degree.
This came after her initial plea of “not guilty” last Sept. 29.
The charges against Lightner were based upon her theft of funds from her former employer, the Preble County Historical Society and her theft of funds from an elderly benefactor of the PCHS.
The plea brought to conclusion an extensive investigation performed jointly by the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office and the Preble County Sheriff’s Office.
According to officials, the investigation revealed Lightner had stolen $64,237.32 from the Preble County Historical Society during her tenure as director, and $13,710 from the elderly benefactor.
The case was prosecuted jointly by the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office and special prosecutors from the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office. As a term of the plea, Lightner must pay full restitution to victims of her crimes, and pay the full cost of the PCHS audit.
Pursuant to the agreement, the parties are free to make sentencing recommendations to the court, including a recommendation for prison, Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel said in a press release.
By law, a felony of the third degree is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000; a felony of the fourth degree is punishable by a maximum term of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Lightner’s sentencing is scheduled for March 30, at 1 p.m. in the Preble County Common Pleas Court.
“The Preble County Historical Society is a valued institution in Preble County – one which not only preserves our history and our heritage, but also brings our community together by regularly hosting civic events,” Votel said. “The Society is strongly supported by the volunteer efforts and financial contributions of many Preble Countians. This defendant was for many years the trusted director and fiscal officer of the Society. The investigation revealed that this defendant abused this trust by systematically embezzling funds from the Society in the course of her employment.”
Votel said prosecutors will be recommending at sentencing that a prison term be imposed “to punish this defendant for abusing the public trust and for victimizing an elderly and well-intentioned patron.”
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, and forgery.
“This was a ball of yarn that just kept unraveling,” Auditor Dave Yost said last year. “She stole from taxpayers, the Preble County Historical Society, and even worse, she took advantage of an elderly donor.”
After 2006, the Preble County Historical Society did not employ a bookkeeper. In 2014, the board of trustees found that 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 the 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, officials reported last year.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.