By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Calling "devastating" the long-term effect of having Jeff Chance remain a corporal, Mahoning County Sheriff Randall A. Wellington has demoted the admitted lawbreaker to deputy.
The reduction in rank takes effect today for the 16-year veteran who returned to work this month after a nearly two-year absence.
The change strips away Chance's supervisory status and means he'll be paid $36,185 annually instead of $39,803.
Wellington said he had the option of giving Chance a 30-day suspension or reduction in rank. The option was provided to him by an arbiter and affirmed by a common pleas judge.
Background: The sheriff fired Chance in October 1999 after he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of falsification, amended from obstruction of justice.
Chance appealed and the arbiter ruled in May 2000 that the correct punishment was a 30-day suspension or demotion, not termination.
The sheriff tried to have the decision vacated in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, but Judge Maureen A. Cronin upheld it last month, including a provision that Chance receive back pay and benefits plus interest. Any mention of dishonesty was to be removed from the personnel file of the 47-year-old man.
Wellington said he made his decision to demote after a review of the arbiter's report, Judge Cronin's order and long discussions with county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains. The sheriff said he expects an appeal but has been assured that he's on solid legal ground.
The sheriff said the long-term effect on the department would have been devastating had Chance remained a corporal and, as such, been in a position to supervise.
It would have set a bad example, he said, to have Chance in charge of new deputies, all of whom have passed tests that qualify them as trustworthy.
In November, when all nonexempt jobs are bid on by seniority, Chance will be able to bid for an assignment outside the jail, such as road patrol. He is currently assigned to the corrections division.
In his letter to Chance today, Wellington noted receipt of what the deputy said he earned while gone from the department. The sheriff intends to verify the income, which will be subtracted from the back pay owed to Chance.
Wellington said earlier this week that he also intends to deduct about $9,000 Chance was paid based on an improper promotion that occurred when his brother, Phil Chance, became sheriff in January 1997.
Jeff Chance was demoted after 14 months and signed a promissory note for the over-pay.
Phil Chance is now in prison. A federal grand jury found him guilty of racketeering crimes in July 1999.
The sheriff will also deduct $1,650 that turned up in a state audit released in January 1998. The report showed that Jeff Chance lacked documentation for $1,300 he said was given to an informant, and $350 he said was given to a Campbell police officer for drug purchases.