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Former fiscal officer repaid money

Mayor posts bond in unrelated case

BRIDGEPORT — In 2018, the Ohio Auditor’s Office ordered the village of Bridgeport’s fiscal officer to repay $12,835 in “improper payments” back to the village.

Then-fiscal officer Agnes Hess also was ordered to pay $9,523 in penalities assessed by the state and federal governments. No criminal charges were pursued against Hess, who, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, did repay the money.

“The money was collected and returned,” Steve Irwin, spokesman for the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, said this week.

The new information came to light around the time it was announced that Mayor David W. Smith is facing criminal charges for actions he allegedly committed in office that date back as far as 2016. Smith, 50, of 205 Jacquette St., Bridgeport was arraigned before Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra on Thursday. He pleaded innocent to charges of tampering with records and theft in office, both felonies of the third degree, and two counts of conflict of interest, both misdemeanors of the first degree.

Smith was ordered to post $10,000 bond or report to the Belmont County Jail by 9 a.m. Friday. Vavra’s office said Friday morning that Smith had posted the required bond.

Bridgeport’s 2014-15 financial audit issued findings for recovery against Hess. The auditor ordered her to repay $12,835 for alleged improper payments she received, as well as $9,523 for penalties assessed by the state and federal governments, according to information from the auditor’s office.

“This fiscal officer made a complete mess of Bridgeport’s financial operations,” then-Auditor Dave Yost said in a 2018 press release. “The village’s current leadership owes it to their citizens to clean this up as soon as possible.”

The audit came a week after the village was placed in a state of fiscal emergency because it had defaulted on outstanding debts. Hess resigned from her position at the start of 2016.

Auditors said she allegedly received overtime pay of $11,496 during 2014 and 2015 without required authorization from Village Council. Hess, who was appointed to the position in February 2014, also allegedly paid herself $382 she was not entitled to during her probationary period.

Other alleged improper payments included reimbursements for $947 in expenses that Hess allegedly paid on behalf of the village. Bridgeport officials were unable to provide auditors with documentation showing the expenses were allowable.

The audit also alleged Hess failed to submit employee income tax and Medicare withholdings to the state and federal governments. As a result, the village paid penalties and interest of $1,778 to the state of Ohio and $7,745 to the federal government. Such payments do not serve a proper public purpose, auditors said. In May 2018, Yost labeled the village “unauditable” for its 2016-17 audit because of incomplete financial records and bank reconciliations.

Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry said on Friday that Hess’ case was never referred to his office.

“This case was never referred to my office for review or prosecution by the State Auditor or the Attorney General’s office. Both offices have the ability to prosecute this type of case if they feel criminal charges are appropriate, or either can refer it to my office requesting prosecution. The matter was not referred to my office for criminal prosecution,” Fry said.

Hess could not be reached Friday for comment.

Staff Writers Shelley Hanson and Robert DeFrank contributed to this report.

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