STEUBENVILLE – A Jefferson County jury deliberated for more than two hours before finding former county health department assistant administrator Annette Stewart guilty on all charges.
Stewart, 57, is charged with burglary, tampering with evidence and forgery. The fourth charge, illegal interest in public contracts, was dismissed.
Prosecutors Anthony Cillo and Laura DeZort from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office argued that Stewart was convicted in 2010. On April 25, 2017, she argued for her own promotion and a 12-hour pay increase in the minutes of the health board. He pointed out that one of the two people who gave him permission for the salary increase died two years ago and the other was unable to testify due to cognitive decline.
“Who do you want to believe?” She told them when the resort closed. “You have all the witnesses the state has presented, and most importantly, you have the tapes. You can hear what minutes were made and what minutes were not made. Compare that to one defendant who told her to commit a dead man and another person, unfortunately, with cognitive decline (he couldn’t speak for himself) to decide between the two versions. You have to.”
Desort Stewart saw an opportunity to ease her family’s financial woes and argued. “He took advantage of the situation.” Recalling the judges’ witnesses who were present at the meeting, they said that there was no discussion for her promotion or salary increase.
“She used her office, she used her job, she used her responsibility to do this. She falsified the documents and stole that money from the Board of Health and the citizens and taxpayers of Jefferson County.” Desort said.
But defense attorney Dennis McNamara told jurors only because Desort did. “It doesn’t do that.” He noted that all she did was follow the orders of her superiors, the late Dr. Frank L. Petrola and Dr. Frank J. Petrola, who worked in the health department for 31 years.
“I’d say she deserves that much of a raise, but she worked and she didn’t steal.” he said. “She did her job. She’s not a criminal.”
Part of Stewart’s job was to record board meetings, and McNamara in Prosecutors pointed out that the recording of the 2017 meeting proved the board voted for a pay raise or Stewart’s promotion.
“Why does she make a recording and not delete it?” If that’s the case, McNamara asked. “She leaves it there, she has nothing to hide. That is not the behavior of a professional cheater, nor is it the behavior of a cheater as they (claim) have made it out to be.
After hearing the verdict, Silo and Desort declined to comment, citing department policy. Stewart shook McNamara’s hand in thanks before exiting Judge Joseph Bruzzese’s Common Pleas Court.
McNamara, however, said he tried many cases over the years, and “Winning is more fun.”
“I’m very happy, I’m very happy with it.” McNamara said. “I feel sorry for Annette – she’s had a tough couple of years. It was hard to go through, and even though she’s retired, it’s hard to move forward with a criminal conviction.”
McNamara said he wasn’t surprised by the jury’s decision, but admitted he was I’m a little worried about it, relieved, to be honest.
“It was a very simple calculation.” he said. Although they spent hours and hours (listening to witnesses), whether she was told to do it or not, the two signed Dr. Petrolas or not. It was a very simple ‘yes, I believe’ or ‘no, I don’t believe’.
McNamara also said he’s not sure if the tide is turning. “As long as there’s no evidence that she’s actually guilty.”