Ohio governor charged with four ethics violations over gifts
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Bob Taft was charged with four ethics violations Wednesday for failing to report dozens of gifts that included dinners, golf games and professional hockey tickets, deepening a scandal that has rocked Ohio’s Republican Party.Taft, a Republican and member of a distinguished U.S. political family, becomes the first governor in Ohio history to be charged with a crime. The charges are also an embarassment for a politician who has pushed for high ethical standards in his office.Taft, could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail on each count if convicted, though time behind bars was considered unlikely.Taft will respond publicly on Thursday and is not planning to resign, spokesman Mark Rickel said. Prosecutors said they expected the governor to appear in court Thursday.The gifts were worth about $5,800 and given over four years, prosecutors said. Taft earlier had revealed that he failed to report some outings but said the omissions were accidental.Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said the gifts included two golf outings worth $100 each paid for by embattled coin dealer Tom Noe. Noe is a Republican fundraiser whose $50 million investment of state money in rare coins launched the scandal that led to Taft’s revelation that he failed to list golf outings on financial disclosure forms.State law requires officeholders to report all gifts worth more than $75 if the donor wasn’t reimbursed.O’Brien said the gifts also included meals and tickets for a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game.The Ohio Ethics Commission last week concluded its investigation into Taft’s golf outings and forwarded the results to prosecutors.A state task force and the commission are investigating public employees for similar offenses and O’Brien said he expected more serious felony charges to be charged, although not against Taft.The alleged ethics violations against Taft are another blow to the GOP in the Republican-controlled state that won President Bush re-election. Democrats have found hope for the next election in the investment scandal and a surprisingly close congressional race this month for an open seat in a GOP stronghold.Taft’s great-grandfather was President William Howard Taft – who later was chief justice – and both his father and grandfather were U.S. senators from Ohio.In a speech in May, the governor stressed the importance of ethical behavior for public employees.”Public employees can enjoy entertainment, such as golf or dining out, with persons working for a regulated company, or one doing business with the state, ONLY if they fully pay their own way,” he said in the speech at Xavier University.Taft released records Aug. 5 showing he accepted invitations to 21 golf outings since 1999, including one in 2001 with Noe. The coin dealer has contributed $22,190 to Taft’s political campaigns, state records show.Taft’s golf partners included John Snow, then the head of transportation company CSX Corp. and now the U.S. Treasury secretary; and Tony Alexander, president and chief executive of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.Some partners have said Taft paid for the golf; others have said they picked up the tab.Taft’s former chief of staff Brian Hicks pleaded no contest last month to failing to report stays at Noe’s million-dollar Florida home. He was fined $1,000.Noe has acknowledged that up to $13 million is missing from the rare coins fund, and Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing as much as $4 million.Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, said the charges are part of a “culture of corruption” in Ohio.Some residents also are fed up with the corruption.”It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Bruce Lively, a Maumee resident who said he had backed Taft in the past but now thinks he should step down.Other Ohio governors have come under investigation, including Republican George Voinovich, investigated for unproven allegations he laundered campaign money, and Democrat Richard Celeste, whose connections to a contributor who owned the failed Home State Savings Bank were examined.Taft was elected governor in 1998, following the most expensive campaign in state history. He also had been secretary of state, a state representative and a county commissioner in his hometown of Cincinnati.Vail – Colorado
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