ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ohio - Former employees of Arlington Heights may soon end up in court for stealing money, but the possibility of indictments hasn't stopped the village from operating a court of its own.
The gavel dropped in mayor's court Thursday afternoon as accused speeders and other alleged traffic offenders made their case for dismissal or reduced fines.
Several defendants said they were disgusted by having to pay fines to a village that can't account for some $262,000 in speeding fines -- an amount confirmed by multiple sources close a recently-completed audit and an ongoing criminal investigation.
"Somebody else is taking out money, so it don't make a difference," said Anisha Woods as she left court.
Ohio is one of the only states in the nation to still use mayors' courts. In some municipalities, the mayor actually presides over the court, while in others -- like Arlington Heights -- a magistrate designated by the mayor sits on the bench.
Defendants can ask for a trial in a larger court with a real judge, but most simply pay their fines without showing up.
Each mayor's court often hears cases of out-of-towners breaking traffic laws where the municipality stands to benefit from a finding of guilty. Traffic fines account for between a third and half of the Arlington Heights budget in a given year.
Mayor Steve Surber ordered the special audit that revealed at least two village employees were stealing money from traffic fines, but 9 News obtained documents showing Surber was warned multiple times when he was the clerk treasurer of Arlington Heights that money was missing from the mayor's court beginning 10 years ago.
Surber confirmed that the letter was authentic, remembered seeing it, and recalled a former police chief urging him to call for investigation in 2002.
"It's $800 I have to pay," said Akila Jones, who received a $300 fine and forfeited a $500 bond. "So if it's going into someone's pocket, then what?"
The I-Team investigation that first brought to light allegations of theft within the Arlington Heights village government has resulted in several hours of talk radio debate of the subject for the last three days days on 700 WLW-AM, and the media coverage ultimately caused the police department to suspend its controversial traffic enforcement program on I-75 .
The crowd in the mayor's court on Thursday was notably smaller than that inside the last hearing two weeks ago. People appearing before the magistrate had received their citations before the speed trap was shut down.
Colleen Mayne was order to pay a fine, but insisted she shouldn't have to pay it now.
"Well, if the money's coming up missing, because who knows if they're going to pocket it again?" Mayne said.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has confirmed the identity of his two primary suspects, but 9 News and WCPO.com are not identifying them at this time because no one has yet been charged with a crime. Those suspects are former employees, and there's no indication that the thefts have continued since the two resigned.
Deters said he plans to take the case to the grand jury by the end of July.
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38-time Emmy winner Brendan Keefe was named Best Reporter by the Ohio Associated Press in 2011, and Best Photographer in 2012 and 2013. He serves as Anchor and Chief Investigator for 9 On Your Side.
Jason Law joined 9 On Your Side in January 2013 as a investigative reporter with the I-Team.