Saturday, October 11, 2003

'It's a sad end to a sad story'

Florence official who stole millions dies

By Stephenie Steitzer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ron Epling, the former finance director of Florence who systematically stole nearly $3 million from city coffers during his 15-year tenure, died Friday of an infection at University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.

The Elkhorn City, Ky., native, 52, suffered from several health problems, including diabetes and a heart and liver condition, said his attorney, Burr Travis.

He was admitted to the hospital last weekend, Travis said.

A spokeswoman for the Lexington-based U.S. Attorney's Office said Epling's death would not prevent the office from trying to recover money and property from Epling's estate in a civil suit.

"I think it's a sad end to a sad story," Fort Wright Administrator Larry Klein said.

Klein, who knew Epling from local government circles in Northern Kentucky, was among many public officials who were shocked when Epling was arrested in December 2002.

After his arrest, family and friends described Epling as a quiet, caring and hardworking accountant who did income tax returns for city police officers on the side.

"Shocked?" Florence attorney Hugh Skees said. "I don't think there is any question about that."

But as the story unfolded in the weeks after his arrest, a picture was painted of a man who carefully and gradually took money from the city and used it for gambling junkets, an opulent Triple Crown home for his wife and a Delhi Township home for his girlfriend, a former stripper.

Law-enforcement authorities said Epling deposited checks written to the city's capital improvements fund into a personal bank account he had titled "Capital Improvements" at Fifth Third Bank. He covered his tracks by paying back the real Florence capital improvements fund by diverting checks written to the city for taxes, licensing and other fees.

Epling's case inspired Florence officials to revamp the city's accounting system and the state legislature to pass a law that would make "violation of the public trust" a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Epling was serving a 16-year sentence at Blackburn Correctional Institution in Lexington on 35 counts of theft.

He would've been eligible for parole in about two years, Travis said.

Travis said Epling was relieved to be serving time for his crime. At his sentencing in March, Epling said:

"I'm truly sorry. I intend to try to make amends including restitution and public service. I hope I can take this dark and sad chapter of my life and make it a positive."


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