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Trial begins for former veterans service director


Trish Bennett, Editor

Rebecca Lee (left) confers with her attorney, Deborah Barrington, during her first day in Pickaway County Common Peas Court on charges of theft in office. (Photo by Trish Bennett)

CIRCLEVILLE – Monday marked the first day of testimony in the trial of the former director of the Pickaway County Veterans Service Office who stands accused of theft in office.

Rebecca J. Lee, 52, was indicted in June by the Pickaway County Grand Jury on two counts of theft in office, both third-degree felonies; one count of theft in office, a fourth-degree felony; one count of grand theft, a fourth-degree felony; one count of theft, a fifth-degree felony; one count of unauthorized use of property, a fourth-degree misdemeanor; and unauthorized use of computer, cable or telecommunications property, a fifth-degree felony.

Most of Monday’s testimony focused on the Pickaway County Veterans Service Commission and employees of the local VSO, who were questioned by the prosecution about board policies and procedures and the timeline of when they became aware of the issues for which Lee is currently on trial.

Lee is accused of stealing money and computer services, as well as unauthorized use of a credit card owned by the Pickaway County Veterans Service Commission. Charges also allege that she, in her capacity as a public official, took possession of an historic Nazi flag that had been donated to the Veterans Service Commission several years ago by local World War II veteran Snap Ankrom.

The flag, valued between $5,000 and $100,000, had reportedly flown over a Nazi POW camp during World War II and was retrieved by the prisoners when the camp was liberated by Allied forces. It was signed by various prisoners of the camp, including Ankrom, who brought it back to Pickaway County when he returned from the war.

It had been displayed in a glass case in the local VSO office but was allegedly removed by Lee at some time prior to her termination as the agency’s director. At that time, Lee argued Ankrom had donated the flag to her personally, but officials, family members and the indictment maintain it was owned by the Pickaway County Veterans Service Commission.

The current whereabouts of the flag has not yet been determined.

Christopher L. Kinsler, appointed special prosecutor for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, led the prosecution Monday, questioning board members and employees about the intended purpose of the VSO credit card and their knowledge of Ankrom’s donation of the historic flag.

Kinsler detailed Lee’s personal expenditures on the VSO credit card, including multiple cash advances at casinos and other venues, as well as several for dental expenses prior to her termination.

Board members, including Ronald Clifton, Bennie Branham, Jim Price and Tom Tootle, testified that personal expenditures and cash advances were not permitted on the county-owned card, and they were unaware of such expenditures until it was brought to their attention by Lee’s estranged husband, Michael Tatman, during their volatile divorce in the fall of 2014.

However, Lou Jordan, the VSO financial assistance investigator, said he was aware Lee had made personal expenditures on the card in the past and had paid for them directly to the Savings Bank. He did confirm the board likely was never informed of those incidents, but he said he could not confirm a bill of more than $6,000 that reportedly remained on the county credit card when Lee was terminated from her office.

Jordan also testified when Lee returned the credit card following her termination, she placed it on the rear tire of the VSO’s handicap van in the parking lot of the office and called him to let him know it was there.

Kinsler also alleged Lee had been personally reimbursed for travel expenses by the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) for training events that had already been paid for by the local VSO, but those funds had never been returned to the county.

Deborah Barrington, Lee’s attorney, used cross examination Monday to present several points for the defense – that none of Monday’s witnesses were present during Ankrom’s donation of the flag to be able to attest to its ownership; that, though “assumed,” there may have been no actual policy in place preventing personal usage of the credit card; and an assertion that the personal expenditures, along with a $10,000 loan from a former board member, have all since been repaid.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court.

Lee was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 20, 2014, pending an investigation into misconduct and was terminated from her position as executive director of the VSO on Dec. 18, 2014.

The charges follow an investigation spanning more than a year by the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal