EATON — On Wednesday, March 30, former Preble County Historical Society Director Jane Lightner was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and ordered to pay $95,000 in restitution for crimes committed during her time with the PCHS.
“Her heartless abuse of trust justifies hard time in prison, where she can spend her slow, dragging hours thinking about those she conned,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement released following the sentencing.
According to officials, a contingency of Preble County Historical Society’s current and former board trustees and volunteers lined the courtroom as Lightner, “faced her day of sentencing for crimes committed against the organization.”
PCHS officials say the punishment has “long been awaited since Lightner was relieved of her duties in 2014.”
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 an 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.
Lightner had been 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.
In addition, Lightner failed to declare income on her tax return, officials reported last year.
In a press release, PCHS officials said immediate past board president, Greg Arnett, who worked many years with Lightner and endured the discovery/investigation period of Lightner’s crime, read a statement to Judge David Abruzzo on behalf of the PCHS board.
Arnett emphasized: “All of the efforts, hard work, and confidence placed into the PCHS by these individuals, donors, organizations, and businesses were tarnished and negated by the selfish actions and abuse of trust by our past director, Jane Lightner. The damage she has caused to the reputation, integrity, and good name of the Preble County Historical Society is indefensible, immoral, and unprincipled plus will be felt by the Society for many years to come. Miss Lightner made a conscious, calculated decision on the unethical activity she engaged in and the poor choices she made while performing her duties as the PCHS director. We trust the court will hold her fully accountable for her actions and her behavior in these crimes.”
According to Tim Lane, PCHS board president, “The people of Preble County deserve a historical society that serves in the best interest of our community, sponsors, donors, grantees, members, volunteers, and visitors. There is no room for any questionable ethical practices within our operations. The Society’s leadership team really stepped up and built an even stronger Society over the past two years. We’ve adopted many new policies and fiscal controls. Lightner’s selfish acts of deceit and theft will be remembered by this community for years to come.”
Lane added, “On behalf of the PCHS trustees, please know it is invigorating to finally see justice served. We can’t thank the citizens of our community enough for your support and understanding during this tenuous time. While this could have been a setback for many organizations, we want you to know that PCHS’s leadership has embraced this time to renew our strategy and vision. We look forward to serving as Preble County’s educational and history resource for many generations to come.”
Lightner served as director of Preble County Historical Society from 1992 until her termination in early 2014 when PCHS’s board called in the Preble County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a preliminary investigation regarding misuse of funds.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.