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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

On Deters' watch

RISING political careers can quickly reverse course, fairly or unfairly, at the first taint of scandal. State Treasurer Joe Deters has been one of the GOP's best bets for statewide stardom for several years, but now he's got a problem: Two of his top aides were convicted of breaking the law regarding campaign donations.

The treasurer has had little to say about his former chief of staff Matthew Borges and key fund-raiser Eric Sagun, who pleaded guilty recently to wrongdoing in a Cuyahoga County courtroom.

Borges was convicted of giving preferential treatment to Deters broker/contributors seeking business with the state, and Sagun for concealing a $50,000 Deters donation, from a now imprisoned broker, in the Hamilton County Republican Party's secret operating account.

The state party's take on the treasury scandal is that it amounts to next to nothing and is politically motivated. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, a Democrat, has been mentioned as a possible Ohio attorney general candidate, like Republican Deters. Mr. Mason turned the grand jury probe into the treasurer's campaign funding irregularities over to a special prosecutor in February.

Prosecutors say they were inadvertently led to the state treasurer's office when they began investigating ex-stockbroker Frank Gruttaduaria's admission that he bribed an official working with Mr. Deters to get state investment business.

It could have been worse. The two former Deters operatives could have been charged with more serious crimes than misdemeanors. The treasurer himself is not suspected of breaking any laws, but his star has been tarnished in political circles.

And if he truly was unaware of what his two trusted aides were up to, he is at least guilty of weak oversight and supervision.

It's a rare politician who isn't keenly aware of who contributes generously to his campaigns or feels no pressure to reciprocate with increased access or advantage.

Joe Deters, who wants to run for attorney general in 2006, needs to take responsibility for what occurred on his watch, whether he had any involvement in the treasury scandal or not. It's the least he can do in a bid to stay alive politically.



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