Former City of London Auditor Nick Szabo was sentenced to 28 days in Tri-County Regional Jail and two years of community control on Thursday morning.
He previously pleaded guilty in Madison County Common Pleas Court to a single felony count of theft in office.
In addition to incarceration and probation, Szabo was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
Judge Eamon Costello granted Szabo work release privileges during his jail sentence. Szabo previously paid full restitution — an amount in excess of $5,000 — to the city.
As a result of the conviction, Szabo is unable to hold a public office in the future.
State auditors found that Szabo acted dishonestly when some months after being elected to his position, he knowingly provided an outdated ordinance to a city payroll clerk stating the city was required to pay all of his health insurance costs. Szabo was aware of a newer ordinance that voided those health insurance benefits because he had handled those very matters when he acted as deputy city auditor, according to a statement from Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost.
Szabo also gave an unauthorized pay raise to Debbie Elliott, a former clerk in his office, in May 2016. The raise was caught by the city law director and later voided. Szabo also attempted to get a pay raise approved for Elliott during collective bargaining, but ultimately failed.
Then, in December of 2016, Szabo signed a memorandum of understanding giving Elliott a pay raise of 4 percent, even though he was not authorized to do so — all according to Yost’s office.
Through his defense counsel, Mike Murray, Szabo maintained that he was acting out of lack of experience due to his rapid rise from a deputy clerk position to that of auditor.
“He was a babe in the woods,” Murray told the court.
Judge Costello called into question the timing of the incidents as well as Szabo’s inability to recollect how the conversation of the old ordinance requiring the city to pay health insurance premiums was brought up and by whom.
Szabo could replied that he couldn’t call up specific details beyond the possibility that he and Elliott, a city employee of 30 years, might have been discussing the cost of health care, as he was a new father at the time.
Later Szabo stated that he might have been set up by Elliott, as she might have resented the fact that he was much younger and she was reluctant to embrace change. Their relationship was off and on, he said.
Costello also found it unlikely that a person who was benefiting from a pay increase given by a boss who had overextended his authority would “cut the Achilles’ heel” of that boss.
At one point in the proceedings, Szabo appeared demonstrably agitated, mumbling to himself as he grimaced and pulled at his tie, prompting a reprimand from the judge.
“You need to check yourself,” Costello said.
Robert Smith, assistant chief legal counsel for the Auditor of State’s office, and who acted as special prosecutor in the case, appeared pleased with the sentence.
“He was an elected official and they are held to a higher standard,” Smith said.
Szabo’s family which attended the proceeding in support, left the courtroom in an emotional state — some sobbing while other members cursed and spat insults.
Szabo is scheduled to begin his stay at Tri-County on Friday, June 15.
Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.
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