LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) – The attorney for a former Liberty superintendent who is facing criminal charges said he is “shocked and bewildered” by the charges against his client.
Attorney David Betras said Joseph Nohra was simply conducting an investigation into an employee who he said was stealing from the district. He said Nohra had the approval of all members of the Liberty Local Schools Board of Education to conduct such an investigation.
“Completely shocked and bewildered. My client emphatically and categorically denies the baseless allegations contained in the indictment,” Betras said.
According to the indictment, Nohra is accused of having a video surveillance camera installed above an employee’s desk inside of a carbon monoxide detector and recording private conversations. Prosecutors say it happened over a two-week period in April 2018.
As a result, Nohra faces six counts of interception of a wire, oral or electronic communications, felonies of the fourth degree that could carry prison sentences of six to 18 months, and first-degree misdemeanors of interfering with civil rights.
Betras said these actions were taken as part of the investigation and that the Board’s legal counsel approved the use of the surveillance equipment before it was installed. He added that the Board’s policy authorizes the superintendent to utilize surveillance equipment when necessary and with approval of the Board and that the employee has no expectation or privacy in certain areas of the school building.
“For a public servant to be punished for protecting taxpayers’ dollars is kind of disgusting in this day and age,” Betras said.
He added that the employee involved in the incident has since resigned as a result of the investigation. He said that employee had been running a personal business out of the school building, using the school’s materials, which constitutes theft in office, according to Betras.
Betras added that Nohra also went to the police department to ask where he could get a camera. A police report was also filed.
“I know that he’s right because I’ve examined the evidence and I am speechless. In 37 years of practice, this is the only ‘criminal’ that I know that went to the police to ask for advice as to where to get cameras from. Usually, when you’re going to commit a crime, you don’t go to the police department. That’s just not how you do things,” Betras said.
On Monday, Liberty School Board President Calvin Jones said the Liberty School Board does not endorse illegal activities by its employees. On Tuesday, he said the Board has no further comments.
Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Chuck Morrow said he was not in a position to comment on Tuesday.
Former Liberty Police Chief Rich Tisone could not comment because he may be called to testify.
The Ohio Auditor’s Office is also involved in the investigation, but our calls to the office have not yet been returned.
Nohra will be arraigned before Judge Rice at 9 a.m. Wednesday.