A Franklin County grand jury on March 1 indicted former Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department deputy director Heather H. Ernst on eight counts in connection with the alleged theft of more than $540,000 from the city’s two pool facilities.
Ernst, 47, was indicted for one count of theft, a third-degree felony; one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony; two counts of tampering with records, a third-degree felony; and four counts of filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax returns, a fifth-degree felony.
Today a grand jury indicted a former City of Hilliard employee on 8 felonies in connection with more than $500,000 of missing pool money. Read the full media release here:pic.twitter.com/S056fCuUmH— Hilliard Ohio Police (@Hilliard_Police)March 1, 2018
She is scheduled for arraignment March 16 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
Ernst had turned herself in Dec. 22 to the Hilliard Division of Police after charges were filed in connection with the theft, but no amount of money had been specified until March 1.
“Our position is to plead not guilty and fight the case,” said Stephen Palmer, an attorney representing Ernst. “This is our first time to step in the ring.
"A lot of people have drawn conclusions, we think, based on what the city (of Hilliard) has said. Now we will have access to all the evidence (and) will mount a defense."
Ernst was deputy director of the recreation and parks department since 2012 and oversaw the the Hilliard Family Aquatic Center and the Hilliard East Municipal Pool, according to city officials. She was a city employee for 24 years.
Hilliard police said total daily cash proceeds from pool-admission fees were not deposited in full by Ernst and she provided false information to the city to support shortened or missing deposits.
From May 2013 to fall 2017, $541,331 was unaccounted for from pool deposits, police said, and records indicate more than $270,000 was deposited into Ernst's personal bank accounts and not reported on her taxes.
“Ms. Ernst abused her position of power to manipulate records and deceive the city’s finance department in order to benefit herself,” Mayor Don Schonhardt said.
In her position of deputy director, she was responsible for the daily accounting of cash intakes and deposits for the pools, according to Schonhardt.
Hilliard police, the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Ohio Auditor of State continue to review the case.
“We are pleased with the indictments (and) look forward to the judicial process being carried out,” Hilliard police Chief Robert Fisher said.
The city on Nov. 21 announced a preliminary investigation into the missing money but did not identify Ernst as the subject of the investigation or specify how much was suspected to have been stolen. Fisher had said at a press conference Dec. 22 that the sum of money was “in the six-figure range,” but he would not reveal the amount because of the ongoing investigation.
Ernst had resigned Nov. 1 and told ThisWeek via email Nov. 21 that she resigned "to focus on my health" and fight a cancer diagnosis.
Ernst’s resignation letter dated Nov. 1 referenced the lack of a policy for her department depositing money from the pools into a bank on a daily basis. The letter said the concerns went back to the summer of 2015 but she was not told of them until Oct. 16.
Check ThisWeekNEWS.com/Hilliard for updates to this story.