Jury finds Everhart guilty

Trial reveals rift in political media firm

By Glenn Battishill

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Everhart testifying about the case Friday morning
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/07/web1_DSC_3207.jpgEverhart testifying about the case Friday morning

The former president of a Delaware County political media firm accused of accessing company information after he was fired was found guilty Friday of one of two charges against him.

Nicholas Everhart, 36, of Columbus, former president of The Strategy Group For Media, a subdivision of The Strategy Group Company, was found guilty of one count of unauthorized use of cable or telecommunications property after a jury deliberated for about two hours Friday afternoon.

Everhart was convicted of directing a friend and former employee to access Everhart’s work computer and transfer family photos and videos to him after Everhart was fired. Prosecutors said the friend also transferred business contacts.

Everhart was found not guilty of the other count of unauthorized use of cable or telecommunications property that alleged he directed the same friend to search through his boss’ email.

Judge David Gormley ordered a presentence investigation and said he would schedule a sentencing hearing in August.

Unauthorized use of cable or telecommunications property is a fifth-degree felony and carries penalties of between six to 12 months in prison or a fine of up to $2,500, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

After hearing two days of evidence and testimony, the jury began deliberations just before 4 p.m. Friday and returned a verdict just before 6 p.m..

Everhart testified in his own defense Friday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. Everhart was accused of illegally accessing computer files after he was fired by the company’s CEO, Rex Elsass.

Everhart’s attorney, Anthony Heald, said Elsass was seeking “vengeance” against Everhart after Everhart and other managers at the Strategy Group confronted Elsass about some business decisions.

The case centered around the week Everhart was fired from the company in April 2013.

Everhart testified Friday that Elsass had acquired a number of smaller companies in 2012 and invested a large amount of capital in them. Everhart said that after one of the smaller companies didn’t work out, Everhart and other managers had “serious concerns” about Elsass’ decisions, which Everhart said were “unilateral.”

Everhart said he and other managers staged an “intervention” for Elsass on April 1 about his financial decisions and other behavior. Everhart said the Strategy Group was “a family” and he felt they could be transparent with Elsass. Everhart said he had worked with Elsass from 2001 to 2013 and said they were “best friends.”

Everhart testified that the managers drafted a contract and presented it to Elsass on April 2. Everhart said the contract would ease Elsass’ responsibility and allow him to focus on his family and health.

Elsass testified Thursday that the contract was to force him to sign over control of the business and he refused to sign it.

Prosecutors said on April 2 Everhart also asked a former employee of the Strategy Group and friend, Mitchell C. Marczewski Jr., to access Elsass’ deleted items and search for anything that might nullify Everhart’s non-compete covenant. Marczewski testified that he searched but found nothing.

Everhart said he and Elsass had another meeting on April 3 over coffee and said tensions were high after the meeting.

On April 6, Elsass fired Everhart after Everhart sent a company-wide email calling Elsass a “hypo-maniac.” Elsass said he felt betrayed by Everhart and two other employees and ordered their terminations.

Heald pointed out that Elsass had filed a 10-count civil case against Everhart in Franklin County but the case was “dismissed with prejudice.”

After his termination, Everhart asked Marczewski if his business contacts were still on his personal email account and asked Marczewski to retrieve family photos and videos from Everhart’s work computer. Everhart said his contacts were already in his email.

Everhart added that Marczewski did send him the photos and videos but said they were corrupted and he still hasn’t recovered them.

Elsass and Everhart both said the case has caused a great deal of disruption and stress in their lives.

No charges have been filed against Marczewski. He told the jury that prosecutors promised that his testimony would not be used against him in any future criminal proceedings. He testified that he knew Elsass would not approve of him reading his email but did so because of his loyalty to Everhart.

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG

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