A former publisher has been indicted by a grand jury on charges that she took thousands of dollars from the Dayton City Paper, which recently closed.
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Wanda Esken faces three counts of grand theft and a count of forgery, according to the indictment filed Aug. 16 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.
Each of the three felony grand theft counts alleges that Esken took more than $7,500, but less than $150,000 from Paul Noah and his business, Dayton City Media, the parent company of the Dayton City Paper, via cash or check.
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Last week, Noah told employees and writers interviewed by this news organization that the newspaper had closed.
Reached by phone today, Noah said Esken’s alleged crimes left him a steering a ship filled with water.
“The investigation took over four months and in that time I realized I had two choices one: fold the paper because there was no money, and that option actually came up in mid to late January when we had no money, or two try to save the ship,” he said. “I as captain of the ship I did not want to see the ship go down and if it was going to go down, I was going to go down with it,” he said.
Noah said his paper was thriving and he had plans to expand into Lexington, Ky ( he owns the domain name for LexingtonCityPaper.com), before he says financial irregularities were brought to his attention in December.
He was fighting for survival afterwards.
“The paper was costing me after the crisis between $3,000 or $4,000 a week (of personal savings) to stay alive,” he said, adding that ‘a very high figure’ of money was discovered to be missing.
Reached by phone, Cara Sweet, an executive assistant to Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck, declined to provide details about the amount of money involved or other details related to the charges against Esken.
“Because this is a pending case, we cannot comment on specific facts,” Sweet said via email.
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Christopher W. Thompson of Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, Esken’s attorney in the case, said he could not yet comment.
A woman who answered Esken’s cellphone today, Sept. 25 hung up on this news organization without commenting.
A hearing is scheduled in the case for Oct. 1. The case has been assigned to Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Timothy O’Connell.
Noah filed a Dayton police report on Jan. 5 alleging that Wanda Esken, his employee of about five years, “was stealing from his business, Dayton City Media LLC.” The report was taken by Dayton police Detective Jose Grieshop.
Noah told Grieshop he promoted Esken, a 36-year-old Trotwood resident, according to court documents, to the publisher’s position last year and “gave her complete control of the company” and its day-to-day operations.
She had been associate publisher before the publicly announced promotion in September.
Noah told the detective that Esken was the sole authorized person to print checks for the business, but he was the only authorized signer of these checks, according to police reports.
“Mr. Noah then began showing me several checks that he identified as fraudulent. They had been made out to Wanda Esken for various reasons and amounts,” Grieshop’s report says. “He stated his signature had been forged on the checks.”
According to the report, Noah said numerous vendors reported being overcharged, and in some cases, their credit cards were charged for the same purchase multiple times.
According to the report, Noah told Grieshop that the company that printed the City Paper informed him that he owed about $35,000 in back payments.
Noah also said his office space landlord informed him that he was behind on rent four months, the police documents said.
The downtown Dayton building that houses the City Paper’s offices is owned by the Victoria Theatre Association.
Esken was tasked with making payments and for controlling the credit card processing with vendors, Noah told police.
The Dayton City Paper last published Sept. 11.
The publication’s Facebook page, which was accessible early in the day on Sept. 19, appeared to have been taken down later that day.
On the same day, the home page of the publication’s website transitioned from a collection of featured stories from the Sept. 11 edition to an archive of past editions.