Former Dayton City Paper publisher pleads guilty to grand theft, forgery

Wanda Esken placed on probation for 5 years for actions that contributed to the permanent closure of the alternative newspaper

The former publisher of the Dayton City Paper pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony counts of grand theft and forgery, acknowledging crimes that the former owner said played a pivotal role in the permanent closure of the alternative newspaper in 2018.

Wanda Esken, 37, of Dayton, entered guilty pleas to one count of grand theft of more than $7,500 but less than $150,000, a fourth-degree felony, and to one count of forgery, a fifth-degree felony, in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, according to documents filed on the court’s web portal Thursday, Feb. 4. As part of the plea agreement, two additional counts of grand theft were dismissed.

Esken was sentenced by Common Pleas Judge Timothy N. O’Connell to five years unsupervised probation, and ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution. She was also ordered to abstain from using drugs and alcohol during the term of her probation.

Esken had faced a potential maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine for the grand theft conviction, and of 12 months and a $2,500 fine for the forgery conviction. If she violates any of the terms of her probation, a judge could impose those maximum sentences.

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

Esken was accused of stealing money from Dayton City Media, the parent company of the Dayton City Paper, and its owner, Paul Noah. Established in 1993 as “The Dayton Voice,” The Dayton City Paper published its final edition Sept. 11, 2018.

Noah said his paper had been thriving before financial irregularities were brought to his attention in December 2017. He had joined the Dayton City Paper as its publisher in 2009 under its prior owner, Dr. Mehdi Adineh. Noah purchased the newspaper from Adineh in 2012.

“We were at our peak when this thing went down,” Noah said Friday, Feb. 5.

Noah said Esken had forged his signature on checks and fraudulently stole money from vendors and advertisers who were paying with a credit card.

“She took well over $100,000,” Noah said.

The former Dayton City Paper owner said he will not receive any portion of the restitution, which he said will go to a Fairborn business owner who had been victimized by a fraudulent check. Esken’s sentence, Noah said, “is no sentence at all,” but he recognized that his former employee was probably not going to serve time in prison, and he said he supported the plea agreement.

“The plea deal was my idea,” Noah said.

“It was never about the money. She admitted guilt, and she admitted it in front of the world. I have closure. I believe this is the best possible outcome of all the possible outcomes,” the former Dayton City Paper owner said.

“The loss that I feel is nothing compared to the loss that all of my employees and contractors felt. They lost not only their source of income, but also what they loved to do,” he said.

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