Saturday, April 10, 1999

Ex-township chief gets 3 years in prison

Administrator must pay back stolen money

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A judge sentenced James Harmon to three years in prison Friday for orchestrating a scheme that cost Columbia Township taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

        Mr. Harmon, the former township administrator, had asked Judge Ann Marie Tracey to consider probation instead of jail.

        But the judge said Mr. Harmon deserved a tougher punishment because he had presided over an administration built on “layers of fraud.”

        The judge also ordered Mr. Harmon to repay the township $123,000 and to return $109,000 to the state retirement system.

        “You displayed an outrageous disregard for the trust that the citizens of Columbia Township placed in you,” Judge Tracey said.

        The sentencing in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court ended a case that began more than a year ago when authorities launched an investigation into Columbia Township's finances.

        The investigation resulted in the October indictment of Mr. Harmon, his daughter and his son-in-law.

        His daughter, Debra Huff, was accused of hiring a relative under a false name when she was township clerk. She also was charged with falsifying time sheets.

        Mrs. Huff's husband, Jeffrey, is a former maintenance supervisor who was charged with using his position to personally contract with residents to perform work while he was employed by the township.

        Prosecutors say he used township equipment and township employees to do jobs ranging from patching potholes to installing drainage.

        Mr. and Mrs. Huff pleaded guilty to theft in office and tampering with records. They were sentenced last month to hundreds of hours of community service and were ordered to repay about $16,000 to the township.

        Mr. Harmon, however, was accused of stealing far more money from the township.

        Prosecutors say Mr. Harmon spent public money on a $75,000 raise for himself, improper contracts for his friends and a personalized license plate for the car he bought with township money.

        He also was accused of receiving at least $109,000 in improper payments from the state retirement system.

        The theft in office and tampering with records charges carried a maximum possible sentence of 31/2 years. Mr. Harmon pleaded guilty to the charges last year.


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