Ohio sheriff charged with theft denies wrongdoing

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ATHENS, Ohio (AP) -- A southeast Ohio sheriff was indicted Friday on 25 counts, including felony charges of theft in office, tampering with records and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The allegations against Patrick Kelly date to 2008, the year he was first elected sheriff in Athens County.

Kelly, 63, is accused of improperly using public funds to buy meals and personal apparel, selling county property to a scrapyard, stealing copper wire from a county garage and failing to keep a cashbook tracking money he received in an official capacity, among other allegations. The indictment also said members of his campaign committees didn't properly handle and report donations and funneled money through a personal bank account.

Kelly, who was the only person charged in the case Friday, denies wrongdoing.

"I have not committed or attempted to commit a criminal act, nor have any of my employees," he wrote in a statement released by his office.

Kelly, a Democrat, also accused Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine's office of operating with a political agenda.

DeWine said that the case began with an assault allegation and that his staff investigated at the request of local authorities. County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who was elected as a Democrat, also had raised concerns about an audit and the disposal of county records.

DeWine said a grand jury of county residents heard from more than 25 witnesses before issuing the public corruption charges against Kelly.

"No one should take any pleasure in what happened today," DeWine said. "When any elected official is indicted, it is a very sad day."

DeWine said he would forward information about the charges to the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, beginning the process to determine whether Kelly would have to step aside while the case is pending.

Kelly's arraignment is scheduled Feb. 10.