Bedow determined to get to bottom of county swindle
By JUDITH O. ETZEL

2/19/04

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

He charges again that his rights as a commissioner candidate were violated because the missing $1.5 million was concealed from the public until after the November election.

A local businessman who sought a Venango County commissioner's post last year is determined to get answers to accusations that county officials violated his rights by concealing a financial swindle until the November election was over.

"I have hired an attorney who is doing research. I believe my constitutional rights were denied, and a conspiracy was laid out to keep the information from the public until after the election," said Rod Bedow at a county commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Bedow, owner of timber businesses and other enterprises in Venango County, first made those accusations two weeks ago when he asked county solicitor George Thompson to lay out a timeline in regards to an Ohio financial consultant's alleged swindle of $1.5 million in county money.

Two certificates of deposit were invested by the county treasurer's office with RCM, a Hilliard, Ohio, company. A $1 million CD matured Oct. 15, 2003, and the second CD for $500,000 was due to mature Dec. 15.

Bob Murray, former chairman of the county commissioners, said the missing money came to light in late October when the county did not receive the principal and interest on the $1 million CD. A check into the second CD also apparently showed that money was missing, too.

Murray and fellow commissioners Deb Lutz and Larry Horn, pressed by the newspaper on Dec. 3 about reports of missing county money, publicly revealed the loss on Dec. 4. Few people, other than the commissioners, the county treasurer and a handful of others, were initially made aware of the missing funds.

No information was released beforehand to anyone else, said Murray, because the FBI, summoned by the commissioners to investigate the missing money, clamped a lid on public disclosure and allowed only minimal information to be released.

What Bedow continues to object to is what he believes was "a conspiracy" to keep the information quiet until after the November election. Bedow said Wednesday his legal inquiry will try to discern when the money was discovered missing, who was told about it, when the FBI directed people to not talk about it, and whether county officials were ever going to reveal it.

Bedow said that not revealing the information prior to the general election compromised the balloting.

Horn, an incumbent commissioner, may not have been re-elected had the voters been aware of the money missing during his term, Bedow said. And the allegation goes further, suggesting county Treasurer Deb Sharpe may not have won a term, either, if the swindle had been made public prior to Nov. 4.

Bedow was a candidate for a county commissioner post. He placed third in the spring primary election, losing to fellow Republicans Horn and Sue Smith, then went on to wage a vigorous but unsuccessful write-in campaign in November.

"The parties involved in this did a major injustice to all of Venango County, especially those people who voted on Nov. 4," Bedow told the commissioners on Wednesday.

Asked by Bedow if there is a way to "do a recall of the Nov. 4 election," chief county clerk Denise Jones said the time frame for formally objecting to various facets of that election has expired.

"And Pennsylvania doesn't allow a recall. The only way you get an elected person out is if a felony was committed," said Jones.

Bedow also said the fact that Horn, Murray and Lutz "OK'd a budget when they knew $1.5 million was missing, and hid those discrepancies from the public" was very puzzling.

"They didn't have the right, knowing what they did, to pass that budget," said Bedow.

In response, Smith, the chairman of the new panel of commissioners, replied, "We are looking into that. I'll take your comments into consideration."

Smith added that problems with the original spending plan prompted the new board to reopen the budget.

"We had to reopen it because of the missing money and the attorneys' fees. ... I can't speak about their decision but we have to move on. And, we are waiting (for more information) just like everyone else about all this," said Smith.

Bedow and another county resident also asked the commissioners to "take back the county planning commission and put it back under county control."

The planning commission, run by a board of directors but operated day-to-day under a management contract with the Venango Economic Development Corp., used to be an agency within county government. It was spun off a few years ago and in November signed up to have the VEDC run it.

"If someone hands in subdivision information to the planning commission, it has to be done in a timely manner. Now, it's too long and we'll be in breach of the law. What are they doing to protect the public?" asked Fred Krezinsky, a Mineral Township supervisor who said the commission wanted "the township's (subdivision) paperwork because they didn't even have or couldn't find their own."

Commissioner Gary Hutchison said changes within the planning commission over the years because of issues "have resulted in the same issues still there, like where are the records?"

"We need to take this up with the planning commission," Hutchison said.