XENIA — The City of Xenia law director says the criminal complaint against him are the result of an “honest mistake.”
Xenia Finance Director Mark Bazelak filed charges in municipal court on July 28, accusing Ronald C. Lewis of failing to file and/or pay city income taxes on self-employment income from 2008-2013. The income in question comes from Greene County and the City of Bellbrook, where Lewis is contracted to prosecute cases.
Lewis said Tuesday he did nothing intentionally and that because he lives in the township, he simply forgot he needed to file.
“There’s nothing nefarious there,” he said. “It’s all been out in the open. It just never crossed my mind to file taxes. Honest mistake. I’ve never missed a filing on state, federal or school taxes.”
The city sent letters to Lewis on July 3 and July 15 reminding him of the requirement to file. The second letter gave Lewis 10 days to file and pay to prevent legal action. That too created some confusion, Lewis said.
“I thought I had 10 business days, not 10 calendar days,” Lewis said. “I did file it within 10 business days.”
Lewis said makes $2,500 a month from Bellbrook and $53,155 from the county. He is due in Xenia Municipal Court on Aug. 26. Under city law, the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Lewis’ work with the county is also the subject of a possible ethics charge. The city contacted the Ohio Ethics Committee regarding a potential issue, according to Bazelak and City Manager Brent Merriman. Lewis confirmed the inquiry concerned a paralegal in his office working on cases not related to official Xenia business
Lewis, 47, maintains he did nothing wrong and has documentation proving he was authorized to utilize the city’s paralegal assistant for his contracted work.
A letter dated July 31 and signed by three former councilmembers states:
“The City of Xenia went through a number of law directors in a relatively short period of time. After Ronald Lewis was appointed law director it was determined that in an effort to retain him at no additional cost to the city, we would allow him to contract with the City of Bellbrook to prosecute their cases in Xenia Municipal Court. Per Ohio Revised Code, Mr. Lewis also has a contract with Greene County to prosecute misdemeanor cases on behalf of the State of Ohio which are filed in Xenia Municipal Court. Because he is required to prosecute those cases by statute and as part of Mr. Lewis’ over all (sic) compensation, we allowed his paralegal to also work on those cases. This was later formally acknowledged by a subsequent city council when they approved the paralegals job description with the city … Mr. Lewis came to city council before accepting either of the above mentioned contracts. At no time did Mr. Lewis act outside of the authority given to him by Xenia City Council.”
The letter is signed by John Saraga, William Miller and Eric Winston. Lewis said he has signature commitments from Lee Espirit and Larry Gordon as well and expects to have at least six of the seven former councilmembers sign the letter.
A job description obtained by the Gazette, dated May 14, 2008, indicates 45 percent of the paralegal’s job is to prepare cases and charges for 10 to 12 different police agencies. Lewis said if the paralegal was meant to work only for Xenia, it would have listed just one police agency.
“I have not done anything I didn’t have approval from council,” Lewis said.
Official ethics charges have not been filed regarding the contract work and Merriman said it would be solely up to city council to pursue such charges. He added, however, that any employee or citizen can issue a complaint with the ethics commission.
City Council President Michael Engle had no comment other than to say via email “council believes everyone is entitled to proper ‘due process.’ At this point, council is awaiting resolution of the formal processes (court case and Ohio Ethics Committee opinion) prior to taking specific action.”
Acting County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said Lewis’ contract limits reasons for which he could be terminated. Lewis’ contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2016, can be terminated for only six reasons, including if Lewis fails to perform all required services in a timely manner resulting in prejudice to the county’s rights or legal obligations in a particular case, and if Lewis loses his license.
“As long as he’s allowed to appear in court in the City of Xenia (his contract will remain in force),” Huddleson said.
Scott Halasz covers Xenia and Greene County for the Gazette. He can be reached at 937-372-4444, ext. 137.
Editor’s Note: A print version of this story today names the law director as Roland C. Lewis. The Gazette apologizes for the error.