Hilliard’s civil lawsuit against Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the city’s recreation and parks department who was convicted in 2018 of theft in office of hundreds of thousands of dollars, has been rescheduled for trial Feb. 18, according to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas records.
The trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 13.
Court records indicate Judge Jenifer French, at the request of counsel, signed an order Jan. 7 that continues the civil trial from Jan. 13 to Feb. 18.
“(Hilliard) City Council maintains its interest in holding Ms. Ernst financially responsible for her theft from the city of Hilliard,” said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard, on Jan. 13. “Our special counsel continues to work to conclude this civil suit in a manner that makes the city as financially whole as possible.”
A court document lists attorneys Jeff Madison and Greg Peterson as co-counsel for the plaintiff, the city of Hilliard, and attorney Jonathan Tyack as counsel for a co-defendant, Moses Ernst, Heather Ernst’s husband.
Madison, Peterson and Tyack did not return calls made Jan. 13 seeking comment on the status of the civil case.
The court document does not list an attorney for Ernst, although a case entry identifies attorney Joe Edwards as her counsel. However, Edwards told ThisWeek he does not represent Ernst in the civil proceedings.
French’s bailiff, Tim Jackson, said records indicate Heather Ernst does not have an attorney of record and that Edwards is listed in error because he had represented her in an ancillary matter.
The court document also lists Ernst, 49, with an address at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, even though she was released Dec. 20, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Ernst has “no post-release control” and is not on parole, said Sara French, deputy communications chief for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, ending the criminal case against her.
The reason for the prison address in the entry is that no new address has been provided to the court, Jackson said.
ThisWeek was unable to find new contact information for Ernst to seek comment for this story.
Meanwhile, Ernst still owes the city more than $100,000 in court-ordered restitution, Ball said.
Ernst entered a guilty plea Oct. 3, 2018, to one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony, and one count of attempted tampering with records, a fourth-degree felony.
She was sentenced to 12 months in prison Nov. 16, 2018, and began serving her sentence Jan, 2, 2019, according to records from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
She was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $271,898, plus court costs of $268, for a total of $272,166, which prosecutors and Ernst’s attorneys agreed upon as part of the settlement in the criminal trial.
However, in March 2018, Hilliard filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst – amended a few months later to include her husband, Moses, as a co-defendant – alleging that during the course of her employment with the city, the “defendants retained at least $541,000, depositing at least $270,000 into accounts owned or controlled by the defendants.”
Court proceedings had determined $271,898 had been stolen for “lifestyle spending,” Jeff Blake, an assistant prosecutor for the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, said during the Oct. 3, 2018, hearing.
However, Ernst had been accused by Hilliard investigators of stealing almost twice that amount – more than $500,000 in daily admission fees from the city’s two pool facilities from May 2013 to fall 2017.
Furthermore, a recently released forensic audit of Hilliard’s finances dating back to 1996 revealed “negative anomalies” in the millions of dollars over the past two decades, according to city officials.
The audit provided a closer look at the amount of money believed stolen by Ernst; an initial audit was focused on business and accounting practices and provided recommendations for improving financial controls, Ball said.
The forensic audit, the results of which were released Oct. 28, was the second performed by the Schneider Downs firm, he said.
As of Jan. 13, Ernst still owed the city $109,813.90 in restitution, Ball said.
The city received a payment from Ernst in late 2018, in the amount of $162,082, a forfeiture of her Ohio Public Employees Retirement System fund, Ball said. One other one small payment of $2.51 was made in August 2019, per court documents.
At the time of her resignation in late 2017, Ernst was being paid an annual salary of $88,281 and had benefits valued at $43,155, according to the city.