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COLUMBIANA CO. Sheriff: Expect charges in theft



Published: Mon, August 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It's just a matter of time before someone is charged, the special prosecutor said.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- Money was reported missing from the Columbiana County Drug Task Force in March and, so far, no one has been charged in connection with the crime.

In fact, there have been no publicized developments regarding the case in weeks, but that doesn't mean it has been abandoned.

"Heavens, no," declared county Prosecutor Robert Herron. "It's not been dropped at all."

The bulk of the investigation into the theft is done, said Columbiana County Sheriff Dave Smith, whose office worked with the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in probing the case.

"It's in the hands of the special prosecutor now," Smith said.

Eugene Muldowney, an assistant Portage County prosecutor, was named special prosecutor for the drug task force case in May. He was unavailable to comment on its status.

Expects prosecution: Smith said the theft probe went smoothly, and he expects a prosecution.

"I don't know the timetable, but there will be charges," Smith said.

There remains one suspect in the crime, he added.

Officials have released few details regarding the theft from the task force office north of Lisbon.

Authorities won't discuss motive and have refused to say how much was taken, the manner in which it was taken, or if the suspect was a drug task force member.

Reported by officer: The crime was reported in mid-March by Eric Boggs, an East Liverpool police officer who at that time served as task force director.

Boggs has since left the task force and resumed his duties with East Liverpool.

Most of the money taken was returned a few days after the theft was reported. It was given to Herron by someone acting as a go-between for the suspect.

Herron's role in accepting the stolen money means he is a witness in the case, which prompted the need for a special prosecutor.

Effects on agency: Herron, who also serves on the drug task force controlling board, said the matter has affected the agency.

When the theft occurred, the board suspended the agency's operations for several weeks, and the officers assigned to the agency from area police forces went back to their departments.

The task force resumed duties April 18. But not all the officers previously assigned to the agency returned.

Some police departments kept their personnel, saying they could no longer spare them for special duty with the task force. Others have indicated they're not assigning anyone to the agency right now out of concern about the theft allegation, Herron said.

New director: Brian McLaughlin, an 11-year veteran of the county sheriff's department, was named in July to serve as the agency's new director.

McLaughlin said recently he's striving to return the agency to its full strength of about a dozen officers.

Right now, he's working with officers assigned by the Lisbon, Columbiana and East Palestine police departments.

He's hoping more departments will send personnel in the next few months.

Once the theft case "is behind us, we should be better able to recruit people," Herron said.

"We've learned from some of the things that happened," Herron said of the theft. "We're trying to improve," he added without elaborating.




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