Former dog warden gets year in prison for theft
LISBON — The former Columbiana County Dog Warden, Dawn Croft, paid back all of the $26,268 in restitution owed to the county, but was still sentenced to a year in prison for theft in office, money laundering and tampering with records.
Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Bickerton agreed with Chief Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble’s assessment that Croft’s actions violated the public’s trust. Gamble requested the 12-month sentence.
Prior to sentencing, Croft’s defense attorney Christopher Amato, noted Croft is remorseful for what she did and has no criminal record aside from a speeding ticket 15 years ago. A cancer survivor, Croft cares for her mother and has had to deal with the tragic suicidal death of her son in 2017. He noted Croft had repaid the county the money that was stolen and asked Bickerton to consider placing her on community control.
“I just want to say I am truly sorry,” Croft said. “I’ve never been in trouble. This is very out of character for me. I had a lot of things going on in my life… I apologize to the court, to the commissioners, to the county, to everyone. I just ask that you would know I’m very sorry.”
Bickerton went over some of the factors she considered in making her decision.
“Miss Croft I have no doubt that you cared for the animals while you were in that position,” Bickerton said. “I saw firsthand how much you cared about them. So this is very shocking to see that this was going on, knowing that… these people were (giving) their hard-earned money to you to help facilitate the cause that you were so passionate about, to help the animals in this community.”
While Bickerton said she knows it was a lot of work to care for the animals at the dog pound, to rescue animals found chained out in the community in all types of weather and to find them good homes, she noted it was betrayal because the animals lost out on the benefits of those dollars people gave for their care.
Bickerton added she was uncertain if Croft was sorry about what she did or simply sorry she got caught. She pointed out Croft’s continued pattern of stealing the donations given to her for the County Dog Pound did not stop until she was caught.
In April, Croft had pleaded guilty to the three third-degree felony charges she was facing. At the time Gamble described some of the ways Croft was using her office to steal the money, which was uncovered following a long investigation conducted by the former prosecutor’s investigator Jim Brown. Brown currently serves as the police chief in East Palestine.
Gamble said the investigation began after the treasurer’s office began noticing some peculiar deposits involving people paying dog adoption fees, donations and other money coming through the dog pound funds. In some cases, cash receipts were noted but there were no receipts for checks with the check being deposited and a similar amount in cash being pocketed. Additionally, a PayPal account was set up online to bring in donations, which were not reported. The money was given to Croft.
Gamble said there were also receipt records where the numbers had been altered or the receipts were voided. Some people involved with the dog pound also came forward with information.
Toward the end of the probe an investigator from the prosecutors office, Jenn Tedrow, and a couple other investigators from BCI went to the dog pound and made donations with traceable bills, which were never deposited into the account.
On Monday, Gamble said the $26,268 represents the amount of known thefts between January 2015 and April 2016 as determined by the state auditor’s office.