A warrant was executed last week to search the Hillsboro residence of Mayor Drew Hastings in an effort to photograph or video items in the home ranging from dressers, closets, cabinets and “any appliance capable of holding water,” with the purpose to “record capacities of said appliances, to seize and view any documents and the contents of the dressers, closets, can cabinets to look for evidence of proof of residency,” according to the warrant and an accompanying affidavit.
The affidavit also includes previously undisclosed actions in the investigation of Hastings, including an accusation that the mayor asked a potential witness to lie, and details about the confiscation of his cell phone a month ago.
Hastings has been under investigation since mid-December of last year in connection with a $500 rebate he received for a vacant building fee he had paid, as well as allegations that he used a city dumpster to dispose of personal items. A civil case filed the same day by five Hillsboro residents also focused on the $500 refund. That case was dismissed by Probate Judge Kevin Greer based on an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that an official could not be removed from office outside the term when the alleged malfeasance occurred.
When the search warrant was served Thursday sometime after 10 p.m., present in the home was Timothy Blanchard, the father of the mayor’s wife, Taryn. Blanchard told The Times-Gazette he was in from Illinois visiting his daughter, the mayor and Blanchard’s 7-year-old granddaughter. He said the Hastings family offered him their Hillsboro residence while they stayed at a farmhouse near New Market owned by the mayor.
Blanchard said he had dozed off to sleep on a couch shortly after 10 p.m. when he was awakened by pounding on the door of the residence in the 100 block of Beech Street. He said he could see through the window that several people were outside, and a voice shouted that they were with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office and had a search warrant.
Blanchard told The Times-Gazette that he was frightened, and attempted to call 911, and then the Hillsboro Police Department. But he said those outside ordered him to put down the phone and open the door.
Blanchard said that when he opened the door, there were three uniformed deputies and two individuals in plain clothes. They asked his identity, and then ordered him to vacate the premises, he said.
He said he sat in his truck for a while suffering from chest pains, and then called his son-in-law. Blanchard, who is an ordained deacon with the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., said that he plans to contact his attorney when he returns to Illinois in regard to the emotional distress he said he experienced during the episode.
Hastings said that when he arrived, a deputy wearing a ski mask was stationed outside the door of his home and refused to let him enter. He said that eventually someone from inside opened the door slightly and identified himself as an investigator with the state auditor’s office. Hastings was given a copy of the search warrant and a supporting affidavit. The Times-Gazette asked Hastings to provide a copy of both, which he did.
According to the search warrant and affidavit, the warrant was granted based on investigators believing that a search of the premises would uncover evidence of theft in office, tampering with evidence, election falsification and obstructing official business. A forgery charge that was suggested in a previous warrant on Dec. 16 was not included in the warrant executed on Thursday.
An evidence receipt left after the search was completed itemized a number of objects photographed or videotaped by investigators, including a 50-inch TV, a microwave, a gas range, a refrigerator, a toilet, a full bed, four pair of men’s underwear, two women’s bras, three pair of “ladies underwear,” four plates (kids), three dinner plates, two sofas, two chairs, and child toys.
The receipt notes that investigators “could not locate hot water heater.” Hastings said later that the hot water heater is upstairs.
Investigators said in the affidavit they wanted to search the mayor’s Hillsboro property “for furnishings appropriate for a family of 3 including a daughter under the age of 10..” The list also notes, “no dress shoes (his),” one pair of boots and one pair of slippers.
The search warrant and affidavit indicate that investigators have turned their attention to probing Hastings’ residency, in connection with the charge of election falsification. The affidavit details an extensive collection of water bills gathered by investigators from both the Highland County Water Company and the city of Hillsboro, comparing water usage at various properties where Hastings resided since 2011, when he first ran for mayor, through 2015, when he ran for re-election.
The documents state that investigators have also obtained tax returns filed by Hastings since 2011, and the addresses he provided on those returns.
The affidavit includes information obtained by a former Hillsboro police officer who filed a “citizen’s complaint” against Hastings in 2013 in which he claimed that he spent patrol time investigating the mayor’s residency. That complaint was investigated by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine, who concluded there was not enough evidence to demonstrate that Hastings did not live in the city.
One previously undisclosed item in the affidavit claims that investigators have a recorded phone call between Hastings and an individual with whom the mayor allegedly provided “a key to have access to the city lot after hours to dump trash in the dumpster.” The affidavit states that the recorded call includes Hastings asking the individual to “lie” to police.
The affidavit also describes another nighttime search warrant executed Jan. 7 on Hastings at his farmhouse on Cabel Hill Road in order to confiscate his cell phone. The document states that Hastings “turned over the city owned cell phone but refused to provide his password for access to the phone.” After a court order on Jan. 11, Hastings provided the password, according to the affidavit.
Last week, Hastings issued a press release complaining that investigators had come to the school of his stepdaughter, Willow, to obtain records. The mayor called for a special grand jury to be convened to either indict him “or cease this politically-driven witch hunt, immediately.”
Investigators have consistently said they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.
Hastings’ attorney, James Boulger of Chillicothe, said Monday that he was aware of the search warrant that was issued Thursday, but he said he did not want to comment immediately. He said he might have a statement prepared by Wednesday.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.