TOLEDO — Sam Crish gambled.
Suffocating under the weight of more than $600,000 in gambling debts, Crish — who served as the sheriff of Allen County from 2009 to 2017 — resorted to extortion, intimidation and other strong-arm tactics to try to get out from under his mounting financial obligations.
And it eventually caught up with him.
The saga came to its conclusion Thursday in Toledo when the former sheriff was sentenced to a 136-month term in federal prison. That translates to more than 11 years behind bars.
Crish, now 56, showed no emotion when U.S. District Judge Court Judge James Carr handed down the sentence that fell in the middle of a range that been agreed upon earlier this year when he entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Carr gave Crish “about a month” to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence.
He was also ordered to pay restitution to his victims totaling $606,221.
U.S. prosecutors and FBI agents on June 18, 2018, opened a six-count federal indictment against the former Allen County sheriff and took Crish into custody. His arrest came 21 months after FBI agents entered Crish’s office armed with a search warrant.
In March of this year, Crish pleaded guilty to five of six charges contained in a indictment, including two counts of extortion, two counts of soliciting a bribe, and one count of making a false statement.
One count of soliciting a bribe was dismissed.
The charges culminated an extensive investigation which had gone on for more than three years as federal investigators looked into assorted alleged wrongdoings on the part of the former sheriff.
Crish subsequently admitted taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from local residents arrested in prostitution stings and accepting personal loans from others in exchange for looking the other way while illegal activities were being carried out. In another instance, the former sheriff hired an individual as a nurse at the county jail based solely on that person providing him with a $22,000 interest-free loan.
He resigned from office on Jan. 31, 2017, less than four months after FBI agents raided his office and removed files and documents.
Prior to sentencing, federal prosecutors and Crish’s attorneys each presented their arguments for what they believed to be an appropriate sentence. U.S. Attorney Gene Crawford said is was important for the court to send a message to other public officials — especially those in law enforcement — who choose to violate the public trust. Crawford called for a 136-month prison sentence.
“The public watches what happens in these cases, and it is always a significant consideration when it comes to sentencing that the court sends the message that this type of activity will not be tolerated,” Crawford said.
Lima Attorney Michael Rumer, who along with Zach Maisch served as Crish’s legal counsel, said a prison term of 60 months would allow his client to get about the business of repaying the more than $600,000 in restitution he owes, a recommendation that was soundly rejected by the judge.
Rumer also touched briefly on Crish’s gambling addiction and its “snowball” effect.
“I’m not making excuses for Sam; he knows he has to accept responsibility and he has. He screwed up in the worst way. But the real question is, what can this court do to facilitate his rehabilitation and at the same time punish him and also take care of the victims’ restitution?”
Then Crish had the opportunity to speak.
“I do admit to what I’ve done; I don’t blame anyone else and I don’t use gambling as an excuse,” the disgraced former lawman said. “I’ve created a lot of damage and I feel awful about that. I am going to make every effort to pay that money back and to try and make this better than it is now.”
Crish told Judge Carr that he has “lost a lot” over the past three years — a career, a marriage, many friends and the trust of the community he once served.
“I have gone from sheriff to convicted felon,” Crish said, “and it makes me sick. I’m a good person who made some really bad choices. My gambling was out of control, and I couldn’t see a way out.”
Several of the former sheriff’s victims were in federal court in Toledo on Thursday, including family members of Demond Liles, a convicted drug dealer from Lima who prosecutors alleged had been approached by Crish for a $25,000 loan in exchange for help with a child custody case in which Liles was involved. He is serving a 25-year sentence at London Correctional Institution for a conviction in 2014 in trafficking in cocaine.
During a hearing prior to sentencing, Crish’s attorneys successfully argued that investigators had misinterpreted a 2013 text message between Crish and Liles in which the sheriff asked Liles,”Do you have access to 25K?”
From the witness stand Thursday, Crish testified that the text was unrelated to any attempt to extort Liles and was simply part of a conversation that revolved around Liles’ intent to open a business.
Judge Carr accepted that explanation, saying prosecutors failed to prove otherwise, which ultimately shaved some time off Crish’s prison sentence.