Sherry Kest, wife of mayoral candidate Ray Kest, took the rap yesterday for her husband's credit-card debt, saying he didn't know the extent of how much was owed because she applied for the cards and handled the bills.
Her disclosure comes a week after The Blade reported that Mr. Kest, the Lucas County treasurer, and his wife, had an $81,000 debt on 10 credit cards.
Mr. Kest, who gave The Blade permission to examine his credit report, has repeatedly touted his money managing skills on the campaign trail as well as his background as a certified public accountant.
Mrs. Kest said she does not want her husband to take the heat because of her actions.
“Those are things he wouldn't have known about,” Mrs. Kest said. “To help my family out and without telling my husband, I got extra charge cards out. It's my fault. He didn't even know half of these things. I'm upset with myself that I didn't tell him.
“I don't want my husband to get the rap for something I've done. My husband has always been honest and open.”
Mr. Kest said he knew his wife was signing up for new cards and rolling over the debt to take advantage of lower interest rates.
“I did not know the size of the debt,” Mr. Kest said. “I knew my wife was switching credit cards constantly. The applications were filled out by her.”
In prior interviews with The Blade, Mr. Kest said he accumulated the credit-card debt within the last seven years in part by helping his three children with their bills and by paying for their college and private high school tuitions.
Mr. Kest said he recently received a second mortgage on his home from Fifth Third Bank totaling $55,000, which he has used to help pay down his credit-card debt.
As a public official, Mr. Kest is required each year to file a financial disclosure statement with the Ohio Ethics Commission, which lists all debts more than $1,000. He listed two credit cards on the last financial disclosure form he filed in March as having balances with more than $1,000.
He said yesterday said that it was his fault that he only listed the two credit cards. He said he did not know what his credit-card balances were when he filed the disclosure statement because his wife handled the household accounts.
The state agency requires all elected officials to file the statements annually. The form required Mr. Kest to list all creditors to whom he owed more than $1,000 at any point in the year 2000. He listed two credit cards, one of which does not appear on his credit report anymore because he said he paid it off.
Because his credit report only lists recent activity, it does not indicate what his credit-card balances were in 2000, or whether any of them exceeded $1,000.
All of the credit cards listed on Mr. Kest's credit report - eight in his name and two in his wife's - were opened before this year. The cards had balances between $111 and $15,416, with nine of them carrying more than $1,000 in debt.
Specifically, the language on the form required Mr. Kest to list debts topping $1,000 that are in “your own name or in the name of any other person.”
Mr. Kest said he listed the two credit cards that he thought were exclusively in his name, which is what he thought he was required to do. His credit report indicates that he has eight cards to which his name is attached.
He said he might have left some credit cards off his disclosure form, but said there was no attempt to mislead the ethics commission or to misrepresent his credit situation.
“It was an oversight if I missed some credit cards [on the disclosure statement],” Mr. Kest said. “My wife has been handling the credit cards.”
David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said he cannot comment on any specific case or even if there is an investigation pending. But he said if a debt is in the name of another person, but the public official is responsible for it, it must be listed on the disclosure form.
“The commission really cares that it protects the standard of disclosure for the public and for the office holders who try to comply with those standards,” Mr. Freel said.
He said creditors are required to be listed on financial disclosure forms because it serves as a reminder to the public official about any potential conflicts of interest that might arise. Mr. Freel said a public official who has to deal in an official capacity with a creditor should avoid any conflicts. It also acts to notify the public, he said.
Knowingly filing a false disclosure statement is a first-degree misdemeanor that is punishable by not more than a $1,000 fine and imprisonment of up to six months. It also could be grounds for removal from public office.
Mr. Freel said complaints can be initiated by public officials or citizens. He said if there is enough evidence, his office would investigate. If the investigation reveals possible wrongdoing, the case could be referred to a prosecutor who would have jurisdiction over the matter. He said a prosecutor could initiate an investigation on his or her own.
Julia Bates, Lucas County prosecutor, said her office is not investigating Mr. Kest for any possible violations connected to disclosure statement. She said that since her office represents Mr. Kest in his capacity as treasurer she would have to ask a judge to appoint a special prosecutor if the ethics commission referred the case to her.
She also said that she has appeared in television commercials for Jack Ford, Mr. Kest's opponent, so her office should not be involved in any investigation.
“If I'm in a commercial saying I support [Mr. Ford] and then I announce that I'm launching a criminal investigation [on Mr. Kest], you could certainly make the argument that I have political motives,” Mrs. Bates said. “It would taint me, and the investigation. It would be totally improper.”
Mr. Ford's credit report showed he owed about $11,500 on his credit cards. The two cards that had more than a $1,000 balance were listed on the financial disclosure form he filed with the state in April for calendar year 2000.
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