DOVER – Mayor Richard Homrighausen is not Dover’s first chief executive get in trouble with the law.
In 1929, during the Prohibition era, Mayor Peter J. Groh was removed from office by Ohio Governor Myers Y. Cooper for allegedly accepting a $50 bribe from a state liquor agent posing as a bootlegger.
Fifty dollars is equivalent to $834 in 2022 dollars.
Groh was born on July 9, 1877 in Ragersville, the son of Jacob and Margaret Steitz Groh. He was a well-known meat merchant and grocer when he was elected mayor of Dover in 1925.
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During his tenure he led a crusade against Sunday movies in Dover and, according to the New Philadelphia Daily Times, was known as “the sworn enemy of drunks and smugglers”.
In 1926 he sentenced four people convicted of intoxication to 10 days in jail and ordered each to drink a gallon of water each day they were incarcerated. For every day the prisoner didn’t drink a gallon of water, that person would have to spend another day in jail. In delivering his sentence, the mayor insisted that “the water cure will break their addiction to alcohol”.
Groh’s troubles began in March 1929 when Edward Little, a Dayton State prohibition inspector, came to town. Little had a solid reputation as an agent, having successfully prosecuted 500 people for breaking Ohio’s liquor laws in the space of a year, the Daily Times said.
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The investigation was prompted by a prominent Dover resident who complained to the state’s Director of Prohibition, Rupert Beetham of Cadiz, that smugglers had bribed Dover officials over the past two years. Additionally, the discovery in Harrison County of 500 gallons of alcohol in a disabled truck belonging to a Dover man has raised concerns.
Little, posing as a vacuum cleaner salesman, soon became acquainted with the Mayor of Dover.
On March 20, Little approached Groh, asking for the mayor’s cooperation in allowing illegal liquor to be transported through Dover. Few later testified that Groh seemed interested in his proposal.
The next evening, Little went to the mayor’s home on E. Third Street to make a deal.
“Of course, I’m not in the business for my health, but I’ll let you set the top price,” Groh reportedly told the liquor officer.
Little then produced $150 in marked tickets, which Beetham gave to him.
Groh pulled two $20 bills and a $10 bill from the roll as the first payout, Little said. The mayor also asked that the agent give him “some of the best things” for his friends. Little agreed to come back to Groh with booze.
When Little returned, the mayor asked where the liquor packet was. “I forgot to show you something when I was here before,” the liquor officer replied. “Have you ever seen one before? He then produced his inspector’s badge.
The mayor was shocked by the sight of the badge. Little had to help him to a chair. The officer allowed Groh to dress, then he was taken in handcuffs to the Tuscarawas County Jail, then located in downtown New Philadelphia.
“Robbery officials are the greatest handicap to successful enforcement of prohibition,” Beetham told reporters before leaving Columbus for New Philadelphia. “As much as I’d love to catch a bootlegger, I’d rather catch a crooked official than 100 bootleggers. Without the former, law enforcement would be different.”
After being held in solitary confinement for 17 hours, Groh was arraigned on March 22 in Sheriff Harry Smith’s living room. The sheriff at that time lived in part of the jail. The lounge was packed with local officials and members of the media. The mayor was released on $10,000 bond.
The mayor hired Russell C. Bowers of the New Philadelphia law firm Bowers & Bowers as his attorney. The New Philadelphia Times said they were famous criminal lawyers.
Shortly after, Groh released a statement in which he claimed he had been framed and said he would not step down as mayor.
“I respond that if I were guilty of the charges against me, I should and would resign,” he said.
“So innocent, which I declare that I am, I would be a coward and a traitor to the high trust entrusted to me if I resigned now under fire.”
A few days later, members of Dover City Council met in secret session to discuss the situation. During the meeting, Little showed them the results of his investigation.
On April 1, the board passed a resolution asking Groh to step down.
“Be it resolved by Dover City Council, that Council, in the name of the good character, best interests and general welfare of the City of Dover, hereby request PJ Groh to resign immediately as Mayor of the City of Dover,” the resolution says in part.
If Groh did not resign, the board would help pursue charges against the mayor then on file with the governor’s office.
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The following day, Governor Cooper, using his authority under the Prohibition-era Crabbe Act, removed Groh from office. Council President Ernest A. Barthelmeh was then sworn in as mayor.
Before Groh was tried in the Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court, Little and John Cole, another dry agent involved in Groh’s investigation, were fired for causing the delinquency of several young girls they had employed as decoys in their detective. to work.
According to Henry Hagloch in his book on the history of Tuscarawas County, Groh was acquitted in a sensational trial that began on May 25, 1929.
Little was grilled on the witness stand, and Groh and his wife took the stand to deny the former liquor officer’s testimony.
Groh’s political career did not end there. In August 1929, he was appointed a justice of the peace by the administrators of the township of Dover.
The Tuscarawas County Historical Society assisted in researching this article.