LANCASTER, OHIO - Investigative records show Lancaster Mayor Brian Kuhn not only gambled with his wife, who is a self-proclaimed addict who embezzled thousands of dollars to feed her habit, but he also gambled and lost more than she did.
Kuhn has never identified himself as an addict despite visiting Hollywood Casino, Columbus 252 times from October 2012 to September 2015, records show. During this time, he gambled more than $1.8 million, they show.
With the high risks came occasional big wins and many losses.
In contrast, Bridget Kuhn, who has admitted she has a gambling addiction and been classified as a "high roller" by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, went to casinos 264 times over 36 months, the records show, including while she was under investigation, and spent more than $1.5 million — most of it on slot machines.
Brian Kuhn and his wife — who was indicted for embezzling about $350,000 from her former employer Frazier Electric and American Legion Post 11 — lost a total of about $214,200 playing slot machines and table games in 36 months, according to the records.
The Eagle-Gazette spent about three weeks combing through records obtained through public records requests from both the special prosecutor in the case, William Archer Jr., and the state of Ohio.
Archer and Dave Kessler, the former investigator for the Fairfield County prosecutor, questioned Brian Kuhn about the couple’s gambling habits in November 2015, about two weeks after he was elected mayor.
Brian Kuhn said he was in the casino just as much as his wife and that he did not consider her to have a gambling problem, according to investigator’s notes. He estimated they would frequent the casino together eight out of 10 times, the notes stated, but denied knowing Bridget Kuhn was embezzling from Frazier Electric, which is owned by her former brother-in-law, and the veterans group for which she acted as the bookkeeper.
Brian Kuhn said he didn’t know how much money Bridget Kuhn went through at the tables or slot machines and that they had separate bank accounts. When asked whether she ever gave him money to play, investigators said he responded: “No, never. I wish.”
At one point in the interview, investigators noted they changed their line of questioning from Bridget Kuhn’s casino visits to Brian Kuhn’s: “Brian was shown a chart that illustrated his gambling pattern and how it grew over time. Brian’s attorney, Dave Thomas, became upset screaming, ‘No more questions, we are done here.’ ”
That ended the interview.
That wasn’t the first time someone had confronted Brian Kuhn about questionable spending and his frequent trips to casinos. Friends confronted him. His business partner confronted him. Fellow Republicans confronted him. His bank confronted him. All of those confrontations spanned a decade, and some of them occurred just months before the public voted him into office.
In response to the encounters, Brian Kuhn reportedly denied there was a problem. According to one of his friends questioned by investigators, Brian Kuhn allegedly lied about Bridget Kuhn winning a jackpot and chalked up the talk to rumors attempting to smear his mayoral campaign.
The Eagle-Gazette obtained investigative documents from Brian Kuhn’s criminal case in which he pleaded guilty to two first-degree misdemeanors of attempted failure to file an income tax return in December. The records, which became public only after the case’s completion, show that investigators had dug up much more than Brian Kuhn’s tax records. Hundreds of pages of documents give insight into Brian Kuhn’s business Buckeye Payroll and Accounting, his work as county treasurer and his gambling tendencies, among others.
What do gamblers have to claim on taxes?
By the numbers
Ohio Auditor of State Assistant Chief Legal Counsel Robert Smith said he isn’t sure when Brian Kuhn began to gamble, but he suspects it was before slot machines — Brian Kuhn’s game of choice, specifically the 5-, 10- and 25-cent video poker machines — became legal to operate in the state.
The day Hollywood Casino, Columbus opened its doors Oct. 3, 2012, for a soft opening, when 13,000 guests were invited, the Kuhns were there.
After that, Brian Kuhn could spend six or seven hours at the casino, especially Thursday nights when the couple didn’t have their children, playing until the early hours of the morning, according to casino data and his interview with investigators.
The couple visited Hollywood Casino, which was their prime gambling spot, anywhere from zero to five times a week. There, Brian Kuhn came out on top four months out of the 36-month time span. The most he had won there playing slots in a month was more than $5,500 (March 2014), and the most he had lost was about $9,500 (July 2014).
Bridget Kuhn won a jackpot of about $45,000 from Hollywood Casino in June 2015, and casino slot machine records show her winning a total of $54,000 that month.
Brian Kuhn told investigators “nobody inside the casino knew him or bothered him about work related issues … (Brian Kuhn) can’t go out to dinner without someone questioning him or bothering him about a city matter,” according to the interview summary with him.
Ohio Casino Control Commission records show the couple went to casinos in Columbus (Hollywood Casino and Scioto Downs), Cincinnati, West Virginia, Indiana and Las Vegas. However, data from casinos other than Hollywood Casino were not figured into the casino commission totals mentioned earlier, including the number of visits, gambling amounts and win/loss figures. The commission gathered data using casino player club records, which are not 100 percent accurate and expect a 5 percent margin of error, according to investigative notes.
The data also mentioned money spent gambling at the American Legion and the Knights of Columbus.
Funding of trips
Investigators created spreadsheets of the couple's legitimate and unknown cash flows to determine where the money they gambled with came from.
With Bridget Kuhn’s salary and other extraneous legitimate funding sources, she made $52,400 in 2013 and spent nearly $154,000 that year for living and gambling expenses. Investigators uncovered more than $104,000 in “unknown and illegitimate sources” in Bridget Kuhn’s accounts in 2013.
The same pattern carried throughout 2014 and into fall 2015, with Bridget Kuhn’s account obtaining more than $190,000 of “illegitimate and unknown” income sources in 2014 and $162,800 in 2015.
The same patterns carried throughout and increased in 2014. In 2014, a financial report created by investigators shows Bridget Kuhn had more than $190,000 in illegitimate and unknown income and nearly $162,900 in 2015.
The financial analysis into Brian Kuhn’s bank account was less definitive. Investigators highlighted an “unknown cash flow” that couldn’t be tied specifically to anyone or anything because it was cash, they said.
In 2013, Brian Kuhn reportedly had $14,800 in unexplained cash deposits in his bank account, with a legitimate, known income of nearly $84,700. The total outflow of money for that year in Brian Kuhn's account was about $101,400, officials reported, adding the amount of money increased in 2014 with nearly $27,000 in cash deposits and about $25,000 in 2015 (January to September).
Brian Kuhn was not charged with any wrongdoing in relation to the undetermined cash flow.
Smith said Brian Kuhn’s unknown income was based on cash deposits, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly where that cash came from.
“Unfortunately, when you deposit cash, part of the source is unknown,” Smith said, adding that the money “could have been client money from Buckeye Payroll because we do have evidence he was receiving some payments in cash.”
The cash also could have been money Bridget Kuhn gave him at casinos, Smith said. There was no way, if Bridget Kuhn gave him cash, Brian Kuhn would have been able to determine whether it was gambling winnings or from an illegal source, Smith said.
Brian Kuhn told the Eagle-Gazette more than a year ago after his wife’s indictment that there were a lot of things he would like to say, but couldn’t per the advice of his attorney.
He knew his wife was under investigation but said he didn’t know any more than that.
"The less I knew, the better off I think I was," he told the Eagle-Gazette in December 2015.
At the time, he would not confirm whether Bridget Kuhn had a gambling problem or whether they gambled together.
Brian Kuhn refused to answer several of the Eagle-Gazette's questions regarding his gambling habits, including when he started, whether he still gambles, whether it has influenced his work, or whether he has a gambling problem.
Brian Kuhn also declined to comment on whether he realized that his or his wife's spending was getting out of hand or whether he still stood by his earlier statements, denying any knowledge of his wife's gambling or wrongdoing.
According to Ohio for Responsible Gambling, warning signs for problem gambling include borrowing for gambling, hiding time spent gambling or unpaid bills and debts, lying about gambling, bragging about winnings or exaggerating wins and minimizing losses, and spending lots of time gambling. Tips for responsible gambling include setting limits, not borrowing to play and not gambling when stressed or depressed.
Nationally, roughly 4 percent of adults have a problem gambling disorder. Ohio estimates a prevalence of 5 percent of adults who do not gamble responsibly, said Rhonda Myers, executive director of the Fairfield County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.
In a survey of Fairfield County residents in 2016, 42 percent of adults reported gambling in the past year, whereas 1 percent of Fairfield County adults reported engaging in some form of gambling daily.
“Coin in” dollar amount to slot machines: $1.82 million
Slot loss: $62,927
Cash buy-in on table games: $32,355
Table loss: $69,714
Total loss: $132,641
“Coin in” dollar amount to slot machines: $1.36 million
Slot loss: $51,440
Cash buy-in on table games: $218,120
Table loss: $30,170
Total loss: $81,610
Source: Hollywood Casino player club records provided by the Ohio Casino Control Commission
Mansfield News Journal