ASHTABULA — The former Ward 3 city council member who resigned a year-and-a-half ago says he was "maliciously prosecuted," not treated fairly and bullied into resigning.
Reginald Holman recently wrote a letter to the editor and sat down for an interview with the Star Beacon following comments made about him and his situation in light of the Ashtabula City Council passing a policy to deal with a council member who fails a drug test. The issue arose back in November 2017 after it came to light Holman had failed a drug test and fellow council members said they were upset there were no repercussions.
With his criminal voter fraud case over and any investigation into him concluded, Holman said he could now give his side of the story.
Failed Drug Test
Holman's tensions with city officials began in November 2017 after he failed a drug test, which returned positive results for chemicals found in marijuana and cocaine.
Holman insists he had not done drugs for more than six months prior to the election — and he believes it was longer — but admitted he has used drugs in his life and could have used them within a year of the election, but he did not know specifically the last time he had done drugs.
"I haven't put a time period on it. But I can say that I was clean and I do believe when council could not get me on drugs to release me, that they went for other options," he said.
Holman cited examples of drug tests across the country that had returned false positives and believes he was done in by a faulty test. Per policy, city officials offered to have the second half of Holman's sample tested at a different facility of his choice.
"I know he was invited on several occasions, including once at a City Council meeting, to tell the city which lab he wanted to do the testing on the split sample, and never did," City Solicitor Michael Franklin said.
Holman said "I did not trust the whole situation. ... I had a lack of trust for the city," and instead offered to supply a new urine sample and pay for his own drug test.
At that point, other council members — most notably Michael Speelman — began calling for Holman to address the issue and resign.
To try and move forward, Holman publicly announced he would seek treatment in adherence with the city’s Drug Free Workplace Policy.
Holman never ultimately went to any treatment, though he objects to the characterization that he refused to go. He said he made two appointments and had to cancel each, once for a doctor’s appointment and the second for an appointment with his lawyer. He said he never made a third appointment because he was "bullied" off council before he could do so.
Franklin said Holman received two invitations to reschedule an appointment for assessment and counseling, which he did not follow through on.
When asked why it didn't amount to the same thing — that he never went to any appointments — Holman said "my response is what happened, that's the only response I have."
"I don't have to make excuses, but I will fight for what is right," he said.
Today, Holman denies he ever needed treatment, and said he only agreed to go at the time because it appeared to be the "honorable" thing to do given what was being said about him and that it would help him look better to the public, but Holman said he was always going to prioritize his health and his legal situation over what he says was a non-existent drug problem.
He describes his entire situation as a "public lynching" and said he believed race played some factor in his situation.
"Being black definitely didn't help me," he said.
He said he did not see prejudice from anyone while he running, only after the failed drug test came to light, which he believes was the impetus for what he considers trumped up voter fraud charges and a theft investigation in which he was not ever charged.
"I've been disappointed in my colleagues because no one has tried to talk to me or reach out to me. But they were very good colleagues when I was running," he said, adding, "Things changed when these things arose. Then different people's actions came out of hearsay instead of facts."
Speelman said he believes every time Holman has broken the law and is caught, he attempts to lie his way out of it.
"When he is caught in his lies, he attempts to shift the blame to anyone other than himself," he said. "He makes every effort to portray himself as the victim, which he is not. He claims he was bullied off council, again, an effort to portray himself as a victim. He resigned only when he had no choice. The Board of Elections found him to not be a qualified elector in the city, therefore forfeiting his seat in council, as is spelled out in our city charter."
Speelman said for Holman to suggest any of the situation has to do with race is "preposterous."
Franklin echoed that sentiment.
"Mr. Holman didn't lose his seat on Council because of his drug problem. He lost it due to dishonesty," Franklin said.
Holman did eventually resign from council in April 2018 on the eve of a vote on a resolution finding he vacated and forfeited the office of Ward 3 representative by reason of non-residency and failing to qualify as a voter. The resolution would have stripped Holman of all rights and benefits of being a council member.
He said leading up to his resignation he received "bullying" calls, as did his mother's home and beauty salon, which factored into his decision to resign.
Following a hearing, the county election board ruled in March 2018 that Holman did not live at 1123 W. 43rd St., but actually at his parents home, 3359 Austinburg Road. The case was eventually forwarded to the Ashtabula County Prosecutor and he was indicted on one count of election falsification, two counts falsification of petition and voter registration fraud, all fifth-degree felonies. In January of this year, he pleaded guilty to one count of attempted election falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor, and the other charges were dropped.
Holman said he did was he was supposed to do as far as registration was concerned and had lived at the West 43rd Street address for more than 30 years.
He said he was "maliciously prosecuted" and city officials did not apply the law properly. He questioned how three felony charges could become a single misdemeanor charge and maintained he had not done anything wrong.
The city solicitor sees it another way.
"Rather than challenge the evidence against him, he and his lawyer negotiated a plea of guilty to 'attempted election fraud' in Eastern County Court," Franklin said. "He got a slap on the wrist in terms of a fine, suspended jail time and probation, but my understanding from the county prosecutor's office at the time was that he had to agree to resign from City Council. He did so."
Franklin also said a plea of guilty means a complete admission of the facts and acceptance of personal responsibility for a crime.
When questioned about why he entered a guilty plea at all if he believed he was innocent, Holman said he and his attorney believed he would not get a fair trial in Ashtabula County, saying he was "railroaded" and did not want to take a plea, but he also did not want to risk being convicted on felony charges under those circumstances.
"I felt I did not deserve any of it. ... But due to the way it could have come out and the way it was going, it was wise and smart for me to take a misdemeanor then to be an innocent person going to jail like other people. It wasn't what I wanted to take," he said.
Franklin said Holman was allowed to plead to "attempted election fraud" as a legal fiction so that the severity of the crime would be reduced to a first-degree misdemeanor from a fifth-degree felony. In order to get that plea deal he had to say in open court that he deliberately engaged in conduct which, if successful, would constitute the crime of elections fraud.
"If he is now saying something different, then did he deliberately lie to the Eastern County Court judge? Or is he deliberately lying now? It's one or the other," Franklin said. "If he wants to put his money where his mouth is, he should apply to withdraw his plea and stand trial on the original felonies. He won't do that because he knows he would be convicted. The evidence against him was nearly overwhelming."
Police have said while Holman was under surveillance, 26 out of 30 days his vehicle was at his parents home. Holman counters that the police had the correct color of the vehicle but listed the wrong make and model of car in their report, meaning they weren't following the proper car.
Holman did say he often slept at his parents home. He said they are sick and he would go to check on them, but he was unsure how many nights per week he typically slept there.
"If I decide to spend the night, I think I have a right to visit my parents and spend the night whenever I want to, as long as I don't change my address. The law says that," he said.
Prosecutors also pointed to an incident where Holman's dog got loose and he was cited — with his address being listed as his parents home. Holman said his apartment is too small for his dog and he took it to live at his parents house because they have a big yard. So when the dog got out, he told police where the dog had come from and did not give police his West 43rd Street address.
Police have also said they found no clothes, personal items, bathroom or kitchen when they first searched the West 43rd Street address. Holman denied those claims and said he had a working toilet and it was no one's concern how he decorated or outfitted his home.
"I think they basically flat out lied, and I think they misinterpreted," Holman said, adding, "Who determines my standard of living?"
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said the police told the truth.
"We have no reason to lie," he said. "As for the vehicle, his vehicle wasn't the only piece of evidence."
While Holman did not offer any specific theories as to why he thinks police would have lied and wanted him removed from office, he said the failed drug test and a theft investigation involving the former housing inspector were likely factors. Holman said he believes when they could not find evidence of theft, they pivoted to voter fraud accusations.
"How can you come in there looking for money, then not even mention money and turn around and it's voter fraud now," he said, later adding he was told "when I did the paperwork it was 'wrong,' but it didn't become 'wrong' until I was elected."
Holman had two opportunities to contest the evidence against him and did not, Franklin said.
"Now he's proclaiming his innocence and trying to put on the mantle of a victim. That is absurd," he said. "Mr. Reginald Holman is not a victim of anything except his own poor judgement and lack of honesty."
Holman was the subject of an investigation regarding the theft of money from a vacant home at the corner of West Avenue and West 43rd Street in December 2017, in connection with former city housing inspector John Artuso. Holman admits the investigation "shadowed everything else" and he was frustrated that his reputation took a hit despite not ever being charged, let alone found guilty.
Holman admits he took some things from the home — a stove, some mirrors, some scarves, etc. — for a yard sale for his mother's church after he said he got the OK from Artuso. When he found out Artuso had no right to the property, Holman said he returned it immediately.
"I believed when I asked Mr. Artuso (about the items), I thought that was all the permission I needed. ... Once I was told that it was wrong, I did what the paper said, 'if you have anything please bring it back,'" he said.
Franklin said that is true.
"There wasn't much evidence that Reginald Holman participated beyond helping himself to some furniture, which he returned after I was quoted in the newspaper as saying I would prosecute if items removed from that structure were not returned," he said.
Despite being searched by the police and FBI, no money was ever found at Holman's West 43rd Street property in connection to Artuso or the vacant home, despite a search warrant affidavit in which Holman was accused of taking money.
It was during this investigation, however, that police have said they began looking into his residency situation because it appeared no one lived in the apartment Holman said was his residence. When police executed a search warrant at Holman's parents' house on Austinburg Road in Plymouth Township, they found Holman's clothes, medication and other personal items.
Holman categorically denies ever taking any money from Artuso or the vacant property at West 43rd Street and West Avenue. Artuso was the only person ever charged in connection to the theft and he eventually pleaded guilty.
As for why several people told investigators he had taken money: "I'm the biggest target."
Franklin said that is absurd.
"Far from being targeted or treated unfairly due to their race, Mr. Holman and his family have been treated with extreme deference and leniency," he said. "His response says volumes about his character, or the lack thereof."
Holman stressed that he wanted to thank all the voters in Ward 3 who voted for him and have since supported him.
While he has not decided what the future holds, he has not ruled out running for office again and said he was at least "thinking" about it — and he would still put his address as 1123 W. 43rd St.
When asked why people should believe his account over those of police, prosecutors and city officials, Holman said he never had a track record of any kind prior to becoming a council member.
"There would have been some evidence in my lifestyle to prove that I wasn’t a fair person. If I had been a wrong person, stealing, criminal whatever, it would have come up before I was 58 years old," he said. "I believe that should be the track record for people to believe me."
By telling his account, Holman hopes everything will be cleared up with the public.
City Council President John Roskovics said it's disappointing this "unfortunate issue" continues to surface.
"Serving on council is a privilege and it’s important that we take this honor respectfully," Roskovics said. "There are legal avenues and another election in two years if someone would want to explore those options, but as a council our attention is now focused on doing what we can to improve our city."
Holman said the issues in Ward 3 and the city that prompted him to run in the first place are still there, and he will continue to work on those even if that takes place as a private citizen.
"I still think there could be a difference made. My goal was to bring different perspectives, not to dislike anybody ... not to have bitter feeling against Ashtabula and the people who control the city. My thing was to work with them," he said. "I don't think I have to be a council man to be heard. And if that's the best for me, then I'll take that."