Former attorney pleads guilty to forgery, theft charges

Amber Gillenwater

December 13, 2013

GALLIPOLIS — A former attorney has pleaded guilty to felony charges of forgery and theft in the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County after a new indictment was filed against him last year.

John R. Lentes, 58, formerly of Crown City, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of forgery and two counts of theft during a hearing before presiding Judge Leonard Holzapfel, according to an entry filed with the Gallia County Clerk of Courts last week.

According to the indictment in this case, Lentes is alleged to have forged the signature of Gallia County Common Pleas Judge D. Dean Evans between November 1, 2004, and May 31, 2007, and is also alleged to have forged a common pleas court judgment entry between November 1, 2004, and May 31, 2007.

In addition, the four-count indictment also outlines two charges of theft in which the defendant is alleged to have stolen cash from six victims between September 1, 2005, and December 31, 2008, property valued at over $1,000, but less than $7,500, and, in a separate theft charge, the defendant is alleged to have stolen more than $7,500, but less than $150,000, from two female victims between April 1, 2003, and December 11, 2008.

Lentes, who served two terms as the Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney from 1993-2001, later opened a practice in Gallipolis. He was disbarred in 2008 following a hearing before the Ohio Supreme Court after complaints were filed by at least three former clients who were represented by Lentes in civil matters between 2004 and 2007.

After an investigation, the supreme court’s Board of Grievances and Discipline found that Lentes had been dishonest, negligent and incompetent in his representation of his clients.

In 2010, Lentes was arraigned in the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County and charged with one count of theft after he had allegedly stolen $9,760 in insurance money from a female victim between December 2007 and January 2009.

A plea hearing was later held in this case, and, after an inconsistency in the indictment and proposed written plea agreement was discovered by defense counselor Charles Knight and the State of Ohio, represented by Assistant Ohio Attorney General Melinda Kowalski, the defendant withdrew his proposed guilty plea. The state also later indicted its desire to dismiss the charge and re-indict the defendant at a later date.

Then presiding Judge Fred W. Crow, III, who was assigned to the case after Judge D. Dean Evans recused himself, later overruled the state’s motion to dismiss the case.

After an impending jury trial in this case was continued several times, Kowalski again requested the court dismiss the case in April 2011. This second request, however, was based upon the fact that the victim would lack the ability to testify due to medical reasons.

The entry reads, “Based on her inability to testify, the State does not have sufficient evidence to proceed. Additionally, the State is aware of other incidents in which the defendant was involved in and is preparing to go to Grand Jury based on those events.”

Judge Crow again denied the state’s motion for dismissal in this case; however, Crow later withdrew as trial judge in this matter due to medical reasons in an entry dated on May 3, 2011.

The Ohio Supreme Court later assigned Paul Randall Knece, Judge of the Pickaway County Court of Common Pleas, to Lentes ’ case, and, in a final entry filed in November 2011, Knece grants the state’s request to dismiss the case without prejudice.

A new indictment was filed against Lentes on August 21, 2012, and signed by Assistant Attorney Generals Marianne Hemmeter and Jennifer Brumby, who are representing the State of Ohio in this matter.

A summons was later filed for Lentes’ appearance. The defendant however, who was then living in Chesterfield, Mo., failed to appear for the scheduled arraignment on October 26, 2012, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Lentes was subsequently arrested on the warrant on indictment in St. Louis County, Mo., on June 26, 2013. He was later transported on July 3, by a Gallia County Sheriff’s deputy back to Gallia County to face the charges of the new indictment.

He subsequently appeared for an arraignment hearing with his retained counsel, Chuck Knight, and pleaded not guilty to two counts of forgery, both felonies of the fifth degree, and one count of theft, a fifth degree felony, and one count of grand theft, a felony of the fourth degree.

Lentes later posted a $1,000 bond for his own release from the Gallia County Jail.

A plea hearing in this case was later scheduled for November 20 before judge by assignment, Leonard Holzapfel.

During last month’s hearing, the defendant pleaded guilty to all four counts of his indictment and a pre-sentence investigation has been ordered to be completed by the Adult Probation Department.

The negotiated plea agreement filed and signed by the defendant and the special prosecutors in this case reads, “In consideration of the Defendant’s plea of guilty to Counts One, Two, Three, and Four of the indictment, the parties have agreed to present their recommendations for sentencing to the Court and the final decision shall be made by the judge.”

Lentes is scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing on January 8 in the common pleas courtroom.