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Bellbrook-Sugarcreek superintendent, former board member take plea deals, avoid trial

GREENE COUNTY — Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools Superintendent Doug Cozad and a former school board member have taken plea deals just days before they were set to go to trial.

Cozad and Elizabeth Betz accepted plea agreements in Xenia Municipal Court Friday morning.

In a statement posted to the district’s website, Cozad wrote that he accepted an Alford Plea to one count of dereliction of duty. As part of the agreement, three counts of dereliction of duty and four counts of illegal transaction of public funds were dismissed.

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“This plea allows me to maintain my innocence and, at the same time, put this situation behind me in order to move forward both personally and professionally,” Cozad wrote.

News Center 7 was the only media outlet in court when Betz took an Alford Plea to one county of dereliction of duty. As a result, one count of illegal transaction of public funds was dismissed, according to court records.

As part of the plea agreements Cozad was ordered to pay just over $5,800 in restitution, while Betz was ordered to pay just over $1,300 in restitution to the district.

Cozad, Betz, current school board president David Carpenter and former board member Virginia Slouffman were all set to go to trial Monday, Oct. 3.

All of them were accused of illegal transaction of public funds and dereliction of duty surrounding the way district money was reported to have been spent around the May 2019 school levy, according to court records.

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Cozad’s attorney released the statement Cozad read in court Friday. He said that he’s attended conferences and “reviewed the current pronouncements from the Ohio Auditor of State and the Ohio Attorney General in an attempt to fully understand the parameters of acceptable speech as it relates to levies.”

“Unfortunately, the guidance has been less than clear. I understand that a representative from the Auditor’s office has recently acknowledged that this is a grey area, and indicated that new guidance is going to be issued in the near future. I certainly wish it had been issued in 2019, as I would have very carefully followed it and would not be standing here today,” Cozad said.

In a statement to News Center 7, Cozad’s attorney James P. Fleisher said that it’s “now up to officials in the State of Ohio to remedy the uncertainty around the application of these laws in the setting of school levies.”

The Auditor of State declined our request for comment on this case.

News Center 7 checked with Xenia Municipal Court and Carpenter and Slouffman are set to have a bench trial. The start date has not been set.

In a joint statement, current school board members Audra Dorn, Heidi Anderson, Mike Kinsey and Kevin Price said that they have not decided if any action is required. They’re “seeking further information and guidance on this matter.”

“We thank Dr. Doug Cozad for his professionalism during this difficult time. We know it has been a strain on all parties involved,” the joint statement read.

We’ll update this story as we learn more.