Bedow blasts previous board for cloaking swindle


Special Thanks to The Derrick for Allowing this story to be Posted


The continuing mystery of Venango County's missing $1.5 million in investments made through the county treasurer's office appears to be churning up a political mess.

"I believe my constitutional rights were denied me in my campaign for county commissioner," said Rod Bedow, the owner of timber businesses in the county, at the county commissioners meeting Wednesday. "I'm talking to my attorney about it, and I may act on this."

Bedow, a Republican, was one of 10 Republicans vying for a pair of party nods for the commissioner jobs in the 2003 spring primary election. He placed third, losing to Sue Smith and Larry Horn. Undaunted, Bedow waged a vigorous write-in campaign in the fall but lost to Smith, Horn and Democrat Gary Hutchison.

Now, Bedow is crying foul and is suggesting that Horn, who was an incumbent commissioner last year, had information about the alleged swindle of county money and kept it quiet until the Nov. 4 election.

He also referred to the county treasurer's race, noting "one other candidate in this room" knew about the missing money before the election. Bedow's reference was to Deborah Sharpe, acting county treasurer who defeated challenger Pam Clerici in the Nov. 4 election.

Bedow insinuated that not revealing the information before the election compromised the election results.

The county commissioners, pressed by the newspaper for details about reports of missing county funds, revealed the $1.5 million swindle on Dec. 4.

Former Commissioner Bob Murray said the missing money came to light in late October when the county did not receive principal and interest on the $1 million CD, invested through the treasurer's office with RCM, a Hilliard, Ohio, investment company owned by Gary Rhoades. That CD was due to mature Oct. 15.

Murray said very few people, other than the commissioners and the treasurer and a handful of others, were initially made aware of the missing funds. The FBI was called to investigate and clamped a lid on public disclosure of details beyond general and very limited information about the missing money.

After the Nov. 4 election, commissioners-elect Smith and Hutchison were called in by Murray, Horn and outgoing commissioner Deb Lutz and informed about the swindle.

On Wednesday, Bedow said he believes the information that Horn and Sharpe had prior to the election compromised his and others' campaigns. Bedow said the fact that county funds were missing would have affected candidates' standing, especially those who were incumbents.

"They knew the money was missing, and other candidates didn't. I think this information broke my constitutional rights as a candidate because by not letting the people know, the vote may have been very different. I think that's a legal issue," Bedow told the commissioners.

The ex-candidate said he has asked the FBI about when the agency told county officials to stay mum about the investigation, but the feds refused to reply.

"When did the money come up missing and when did the FBI forbid them to speak? I want to know when this all took place. And I am talking to my lawyer about it," said Bedow.

Taking issue with Bedow, county solicitor George Thompson said Bedow is trying "to cloud the issue" but refused to elaborate on details involving the missing money and ongoing criminal and civil investigations.

"We were told not to discuss this with anyone, so I am not at liberty to talk to you about it," Thompson said.

Smith, chairman of the new board of commissioners, advised Bedow that "you need to do what you think is necessary." Her intent, she said, is to try and recoup the money.

"I'm going to try everything I can to get that money back, but I don't have a magic wand up my sleeve. But it wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers to not go after this missing money. And we have to spend some money to get the money," said Smith.

In a related matter, Hutchison said a newly created investment committee, organized last month to guide the commissioners and county treasurer in their investment efforts, has identified three priorities. The new committee was formed in response to the alleged swindle.

"First, we want to conserve the principal. Secondly, we want to encourage growth. And the third step is that we insist it be invested securely and locally, some organization with a physical presence in Venango County," said Hutchison.