GovWatch: County has spent $26K investigating racists texts

An investigation into racist text messages allegedly shared between Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office employees has cost taxpayers $26,784.89, and counting.

That is the cost of the hours six investigators spent analyzing messages and interviewing the involved parties before issuing a 94-page report that led to the firing of a sheriff’s office captain and detective and suspension of three employees.

The I-Team would put that report online, since your tax money paid for it. But its prolific quoting of text messages containing racial epithets, expletives and vulgarities — including jokes about lynching and stabbing black people — violates Cox Media Group Ohio’s policy on airing or publishing profanity.

It’s public record, though, so you’re welcome to get it from the sheriff’s office.

The cost of the incident is likely to go up, as it doesn’t include the price tag of litigation or arbitration.

Fired Capt. Thomas Flanders has started a account to sue the county for his job back, possibly with help from the sheriff’s office union since he was a sergeant when the texts were allegedly sent in 2011 to 2013. People have donated up to $500, according to the site.

If Flanders wins, he’ll get his paycheck back. He earned $89,732 in 2014, according to county payroll records.

Flanders’ attorney has claimed the text messages were fabricated by the ex-wife of the other fired officer, Detective Michael Sollenberger (paid $66,746 in 2014). The Sollenbergers were locked in a heated child custody battle, the report notes.

The sheriff’s office used a well-known forensic expert to verify the authenticity of the texts. He did so free of charge, according to the sheriff’s office.

And, for the sake of fairness, Sheriff Phil Plummer was paid $100,339 in 2014.

Food stamps for heroin

A Dayton woman was indicted in January for allegedly trading food stamps for heroin.

Amberly Badillo, 23, of Dayton was indicted Jan. 15 by a Lucas County grand jury on charges of illegal use of food stamps, a fifth-degree felony.

Badillo allegedly gave a Defiance-area woman heroin in exchange for food stamps, then sold the food stamps to a man in Toledo who was caught trying to use them at a Walmart in Oregon, Ohio, according to the Ohio Investigative Unit, which enforces food stamp regulations.

Badillo pleaded not guilty Jan. 29 and is awaiting trial.

HUD officials accused of lobbying

Testimony this month before a U.S. House subcommittee laid out allegations of Department of Housing and Urban Development officials engaging in illegal lobbying activity.

HUD Inspector General David Montoya told federal lawmakers of “senior officials bending the rules and engaging in outright misconduct, sometimes with minimal risk that HUD will take appropriate action when it learns of the misconduct.”

U.S. Government Accountability Office inspectors gave similar testimony.

Findings include the hiring of Debra Gross as a senior executive at HUD after she was a registered lobbyist for a housing authority trade group. Investigators say she continued lobbying after she was hired, including pushing to weaken the effects of federal regulations capping housing authority executive pay.

The I-Team previously reported that eight housing authority CEOs in Ohio get around the federal pay cap of $155,000 by splitting up the funds from which administrators are paid.

Testimony to Congress also accused Gross and other HUD officials of trying to undermine the investigation.

“HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. Yet this investigation clearly shows that senior HUD leadership actively worked to prevent transparency and oversight,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter calling for further investigation into the matter.

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