A trial date for Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, has been continued to July 16.
“It was an agreed continuance,” Joe Edwards, one of several attorneys representing Ernst, said June 6.
Ernst is facing eight felony counts in connection with the alleged theft of more than $500,000 from Hilliard’s two pool facilities.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge David Cain granted the continuance June 5, the date a trial was scheduled to begin, according to court records.
The continuance was sought, Edwards said, for further discovery in connection with the case.
A Franklin County grand jury on March 1 indicted Ernst, 47, on eight felony counts: one count of theft, a third-degree felony; one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony; two counts of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony; and four counts of filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax records, a fifth-degree felony.
Ernst pleaded not guilty to the charges March 15 at the court clerk’s office, one day in advance of a scheduled arraignment. She remains free on a $5,000 recognizance bond.
The alleged theft first came to public light Nov. 21 when Hilliard Division of Police Chief Bobby Fisher announced a preliminary investigation had revealed an unspecified amount of money was missing from the pool facilities.
Fisher said “a confidential investigative source” told police about the thefts.
Ernst was not identified as a target of the investigation when the theft was announced but she had resigned Nov. 1.
Ernst told ThisWeek via email Nov. 21 that she resigned “to focus on my health” and fight a cancer diagnosis. Her Nov. 1 resignation letter referenced the lack of a policy for her department depositing money from the pools into a bank on a daily basis.
Hilliard police filed a charge of theft in office, a third-degree felony, against Ernst on Dec. 22.
She turned herself into police Dec. 22 and was scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 5 in Franklin County Municipal Court but that appearance was waived.
The amount of missing money was not specified until March 1 when a grand jury indicted Ernst.
The court documents revealed that from May 2013 to fall 2017, $541,331 was unaccounted for from pool deposits.
Eight days after the indictment, the city announced via a March 8 press release that Mayor Don Schonhardt had fired Steve Mazer, director of the recreation and parks department.
The dismissal occurred during a conference call between Schonhardt, Mazer and Julia Baxter, the city’s human-resources director, according to city spokesman Doug Francis.
Mazer had served as director since March 3, 2008.
Beth Simon is serving as interim director of the recreation and parks department.
In addition to the criminal case against Ernst, the city of Hilliard, on the same day Ernst entered a not-guilty plea, March 15, filed a civil complaint in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas against Ernst seeking restitution of the money she is accused of stealing.