WAVERLY, Ohio (WCMH) — A former Pike County sheriff charged with taking money seized from arrests said at his sentencing hearing Wednesday that he redirected it to a memorial tree and local fundraisers, not to a gambling problem.

Charles Reader, 47, pleaded guilty in September to theft in office, tampering with evidence and conflict of interest. He spoke at his sentencing hearing in Pike County Commons Pleas Court, asking for mercy.

After he finished, Judge Patricia Cosgrove asked Reader directly why he took the money.

“I took the money — and, mind you, this does not excuse it — but from drug dealers that took it from parents of very poor people in this county,” he responded. “That money — regardless of what the state and what the media has claimed in the past years of a gambling problem and that money being used for gambling — was used when there was a tree planted in the name of the Shelpman boy.”

Reader turned and pointed at a family member of Daniel Shelpman, a 14-year-old student at Western Junior High School in Waverly who died in a house fire in 2016. The family member spoke on Reader’s behalf at the hearing.

“It’s at the entrance of Western High School. … Nobody could pay for that. Nobody offered to pay for that tree,” Reader said. “A drug dealer did.”

And he said he gave some of the funds to staff to use at car-wash fundraisers.

“When schools had cheerleading that had — or pee-wee that had — car washes and such, I would have our cruisers taken down there,” he said. “My men and women did not make good money. Some of them would give them $2, $5. I took money from that, and I provided it to those people.”

Reader said that was some of the money missing when a search was performed of a safe in his office.

After answering further questions from Cosgrove, including asserting that money used at a racino was his family’s and not stolen funds, Cosgrove completed sentencing by sending Reader to prison for three years.