The trial for Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, has been continued to Sept. 26.

Ernst is facing eight felony counts in connection with the alleged theft of more than $500,000 from Hilliard's two pool facilities.

The continuance to Sept. 26 was granted July 16, the day a trial was scheduled to begin, by Judge David Cain, according to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas records. The trial had been continued to July 16 from an original trial date of June 5.

Joe Edwards, one of the attorneys representing Ernst, said Ernst's attorneys and prosecutors agreed to a continuance. It was sought, he said, to allow for further discovery in connection with the criminal case.

Franklin County prosecutor Jeffrey Blake is the attorney of record for the state; Edwards and Stephen Palmer represent Ernst.

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. She remains free on a $5,000 recognizance bond.

The alleged theft came to 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 Hilliard Family Aquatic Center and Hilliard East Municipal Pool.

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; however, she had resigned Nov. 1 as deputy director.

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 in Dec. 22.

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 March 15, the same day Ernst entered a not-guilty plea, filed a civil complaint in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas against Ernst. The civil suit seeks restitution of the money she is accused of stealing.

An initial status conference for the civil suit is scheduled July 23, according to court records. The joint disclosure of all witnesses is scheduled Oct. 3.

Discovery cut-offs are set for Jan. 9, 2019. Decisions on motions are scheduled for Feb. 20, 2019, and the civil case is assigned for trial April 1, 2019.

Judge Jenifer French is assigned to the civil case and attorney David Goldstein is representing Ernst, according to court records.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo