Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Friend to poor pleads guilty to diverting money

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Samuel Ashley Jr. raised millions of dollars and collected truckloads of food for the poor during his 10 years at the Ohio Community Emergency Food Center.

        But authorities say no one benefited more from the charity than Mr. Ashley.

        The Cincinnati man pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to mail fraud and tax evasion charges that accuse him of taking more than $1 million from the charity he founded in 1991.

        Federal investigators say Mr. Ashley diverted money to bankroll a “lavish lifestyle” that included travel and gambling.

        “He did feed the needy,” said John Voorhees, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service. “But what happened was the money started coming in, and more and more was being diverted for his personal benefit.”

        Authorities say Mr. Ashley, 43, used a fake name — Steve Adkins — because he was wanted in connection with another fraud investigation in Dayton, Ohio.

        The Food Center, located at 1400 State Ave., collected large quantities of food over the years and also collected millions of dollars in donations. Although the food made it to the poor, authorities say, the money often ended up in Mr. Ashley's personal accounts.

        In 1999 alone, they say, Mr. Ashley failed to declare more than $145,000 in taxable income from his work at the charity. The Food Center's money was collected outside shopping malls and grocery stores, often during the holidays.

        IRS and FBI investigators found that Mr. Ashley used his fake name and Social Security number at several casinos, including the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.

        Mr. Ashley's attorney, Norman Aubin, said his client pleaded guilty because “it was in his best interest to do so.”

        Despite the guilty plea, Mr. Aubin said his client disputes the amount of money involved. He said Mr. Ashley will raise the issue with Judge Susan Dlott before he is sentenced later this year. Mr. Ashley faces up to 10 years in prison.

        No one else has been charged, but Mr. Voorhees said the investigation continues.


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