JEFFERSON — Ashtabula County Board of Elections Director Charlie Frye was accused Saturday of taking signs of Republican county prosecutor candidate Malcolm Douglas from a yard adjacent to the board office.
A criminal complaint was filed Monday in the Eastern County court of Judge Harold Specht by the Jefferson Police Department, charging Frye with eight misdemeanor counts of theft.
Frye, who maintained during a Monday inter- view at his office that
the incident is a misunderstanding, is due in court April 2 for an initial appearance.
Frye, who also serves as the chairman of the Ashtabula County Republican Party, admitted Monday to removing the Douglas signs from a property at 30 W. Walnut St. owned by Christopher Altier, although he said he was set up by Douglas over a misunderstanding.
The large number of Malcolm Douglas signs were back in the yard Monday.
Frye, who was taped by Douglas speaking to Jefferson police, was scolded by a police officer. The video was later posted to Douglas’ Facebook page.
Douglas reported the sign theft around 3 p.m., according to the police report. Douglas told police that between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., eight of his signs were stolen from the Walnut Street home which he said he had permission from tenant William “Buddy” Felt to place there. Felt could not be reached for comment.
Douglas said he watched from his law office as his signs were taken from the back of Frye’s pickup truck.
“The theft of political signs is bothersome to a community and to candidates alike under normal circumstances,” Douglas wrote in a statement provided to police. “However, this form of conduct was committed by Mr.
Charles Frye, the chairman of one of our own political parties and the director of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections. This conduct is not only morally reprehensible, but a threat to the integrity of the election process.”
Police spoke with Frye at the Board of Elections, who reported that he had permission from Altier to remove the Douglas signs so that Colleen O’Toole signs could be set up instead.
Frye, reached Monday, said the Republican Party has had a longstanding agreement with Altier to place signs in the small strip of grass between his property and the parking lot.
For the last month prior to Saturday the strip of grass had Colleen O’Toole and Donald Trump signs, Frye said. Those signs were removed some time on Saturday by Felt and replaced with Douglas signs, according to Frye. Frye, who was on county time when he removed the signs, said the tenant of the house did not have permission to put Douglas signs up in that spot. Frye said he was in the process of getting the O’Toole and Trump signs back, and resolving an issue between a landlord and a tenant and giving the Douglas signs back, when the police showed up followed by Douglas. Frye said he planned on dropping the Douglas signs off at the Douglas law office after he got done with his work day.
“In my honest assessment this was a setup,” Frye said. “As a party we don’t place or pull signs from properties without approval.”
In a written statement, Felt said Judge Harold Specht showed up at his door at the behest of Altier to say that Altier had asked Frye to remove the signs. Specht then asked Felt to “surrender” the two election signs for O’Toole and Trump which he had taken down.
Felt wrote that he watched Specht take the O’Toole signs to a white pickup truck at the Board of Elections of- fice, talk to the operator of the truck and remove the Douglas signs from the back of the truck before walking back over and handing them to Douglas.
“With regards to O’Toole, the subject who placed them never sought permission from my wife or I, which resulted in me taking them down,” Felt wrote. Specht said he did not interject himself into a political situation and that he is friends with all of the parties involved.
“I wasn’t really injecting myself into this as a judge, but as a friend of Chris Altier’s,” Specht said. “This was a misunderstanding and I thought it was all taken care of.”
Douglas and David Per Due, who is also running for county prosecutor as a Republican, have battled the local Republican Party for a month over its decision to endorse O’Toole. Questions have been raised about the endorsement process as well as O’Toole’s residency.