CINCINNATI – A small-city mayor who's also a veteran standup comedian was indicted Tuesday on four felony counts including election falsification and theft in office.
The state auditor's office announcement followed a monthslong investigation of Republican Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings by special prosecutors appointed by a Highland County judge. The counts also include theft and tampering with records.
Hastings said he has done nothing wrong and was "mystified" when he was served with the indictment while having lunch at a restaurant.
"I'm only guilty of trying to represent our citizens without the consent of an established political structure," Hastings said.
Among allegations probed were improper personal use of Hillsboro city trash bins, a $500 vacant building fee refund he received and election falsification concerning his residency in the city of 6,600 residents, where he has a downtown apartment. He has called the investigation a politically motivated "witch hunt" and a waste of taxpayers' money.
Auditor Dave Yost acknowledged Hastings "has long complained about the length of time a careful, proper investigation takes."
"That investigation is now complete," Yost, a fellow Republican, said in a statement. "... I am confident the jury of his peers will find that evidence amounts to proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Hastings was re-elected last November to a second four-year term, winning 59 percent of the vote.
Former Mayor Betty Bishop, a Democrat and campaign manager for Hastings' last opponent, said it was "a sad day" for their community.
"All I can do is pray instead of criticize," she said.
Hastings said he and his attorney will be ready to fight the charges, which could bring jail time with convictions. His first court appearance is scheduled for July 27.
Hastings bought a small farm 60 miles east of Cincinnati a decade ago, then bought several downtown properties. He ran in 2011 as an anti-establishment Republican ready to shake things up and scoffing at political correctness. He said while "America is going to hell in a handbasket," he could help revitalize little Hillsboro. He won 62 percent of the vote.
Hastings, 62, has been a frequent guest on radio's syndicated "Bob & Tom Show." His TV appearances have included Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" and Comedy Central. He has been praised by The Times-Gazette for improving the city's finances and for downtown progress.
But critics see a heavy-handed, self-serving mayoral style. Bishop had said after his re-election that voters might not have recognized the issues with Hastings, "but they will."
Hastings' bluntness has gone too far at times. He apologized to upset black residents late last year after he made a Facebook post that said "blacks have all but formally declared war on whites."
Hastings also was investigated in 2013, when the state attorney general responded to a challenge on whether he was a city resident, concluding there was no cause for action. A lawsuit alleging official misconduct was filed last December, but a judge dismissed it as moot because allegations stemmed from Hastings' first term.