June 27, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Tanzania: Politics: State Government: Cincinnati.com: Taft faces a widening scandal

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tanzania: Special Report: Ohio Governor Bob Taft, RPCV Tanzania: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Bob Taft (Tanzania) : June 27, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Tanzania: Politics: State Government: Cincinnati.com: Taft faces a widening scandal

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Taft faces a widening scandal

Taft faces a widening scandal

A handful of people - mostly Democrats and liberal activists - are calling for, or predicting, Taft's resignation. Ohio Governor Robert Taft served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania in the 1960's.

Taft faces a widening scandal

Taft faces a widening scandal
Multiple investigations affect more GOP officials

By Jon Craig
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - After months in which a growing scandal ensnares more and more state officials - including Gov. Bob Taft - State Sen. Mark Mallory says he wonders what's next.

The answer, according to the chairman of the state Republican Party, is possible indictments.

A handful of people - mostly Democrats and liberal activists - are calling for, or predicting, Taft's resignation.

For now, the scandals involving the Bureau of Workers' Compensation fund, its unusual investments and the cozy relationship between Columbus Republicans and the people who invested money from the fund are just the subjects of investigations.

The rapidly developing case now involves the Public Integrity unit of the U.S. Justice Department, Franklin and Lucas county prosecutors, the Ohio Ethics Commission, the legislative inspector general and the state inspector general.

When the Ohio General Assembly approved Taft's $51.2 billion budget last week, it included $750,000 for Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles to investigate more than $225 million in lost investments at the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Investigators who raided investor Thomas W. Noe's coin shop in Maumee last month left with 128 boxes of records, including memos and financial information of the major GOP contributor.

That evidence is now locked down, in possession of a joint state-federal task force, and fueling lots of rumors.

The investigation intensified last week as Taft disclosed that he failed to report golf outings with lobbyists and others doing business with the state.

While Legislative Inspector General Tony W. Bledsoe recently informed Noe that he had failed to register as a lobbyist, Noe's lawyer said treating public officials to social events including golf is a part of doing business.

Lawyer William Wilkinson wouldn't say who paid or how many times Noe golfed with Taft.

If Taft knowingly failed to report the gifts, it's a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Taft's disclosure prompted several Democrats and Ohio Citizen Action, a nonprofit watchdog group, to call for his resignation.

But Taft told reporters at a public appearance Wednesday in Mansfield that he will not resign. "I have a year and a half to go. I have a lot of work I want to get done," he said.


The golfing governor

While Taft is not a member of any golf club, he regularly let others pay greens fees across the state, teeing off with Noe at an exclusive club in Toledo and making the rounds with his once-trusted chief of staff, Brian K. Hicks, according to published reports.

Hicks has quickly built a successful consulting business, running the campaigns of two Supreme Court justices and raising millions for the national Republican Governors Association and the failed Third Frontier ballot issue. One of Hicks' $30,000-a-month clients, Public Financial Management of Cleveland, advises state Treasurer Jennette Bradley about investments.

Taft also golfed with Husted and Curt Steiner, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. George Voinovich when he was governor. Steiner took a $275,000-a-year job in July 2004 as lobbyist and public relations chief for Ohio State University after working six years as a government consultant. He told the Columbus Dispatch that Taft always paid for the golf outings.

"It's clear (Taft) knew what was going on," said Catherine Turcer, legislative director at Ohio Citizen Action who called for Taft's resignation. "Clearly he knew he was going to get caught. This is a systemic problem."

Referring to state department heads and board members who have quit or been fined for failing to disclose gifts including golf, Turcer said, "Taft is somebody who's always been fairly harsh" about ethical lapses by others.

Except Husted, none of Taft's golf partners could be reached.

Taft declined comment on the advice of his lawyer, William Meeks. Meeks has represented other key figures caught up in state government scandals for ethics violations including the failure to report gifts such as golf.

Meeks represented Randall A. Fischer, the former head of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, who quit in 2002 after it was discovered he failed to file annual financial-disclosure reports.

E-mail jcraig@enquirer.com

When this story was posted in June 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Cincinnati.com

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