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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

2 GOP party leaders cleared in flap over signature

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two leaders of the Lucas County Republican Party who submitted an incorrectly signed document to the local Board of Elections did not commit any criminal offense, a special prosecutor from Cuyahoga County has concluded.

In a report issued yesterday, James A. Gutierrez of that county's prosecutor's office determined the party members had no intent to deceive or defraud anyone when they filed a campaign financial report in

2008 with a false signature.

"You have to have a nefarious intent in order to be convicted of crime," Mr. Gutierrez said. "This was done in front of everybody, and then it was amended."

GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook and the chairman of the party's oversight committee, Kelly Bensman, submitted a 2008 Pre-General Ohio Campaign Financial Report signed with the name of the party's treasurer, James Damas.

In July, Toledo Free Press Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller sent a letter to the elections board and Ohio Secretary of State alleging that this signature, and others, appeared to have been made by different people. The Lucas County Prosecutor's Office investigated the matter, which was turned over to Mr. Gutierrez.

Ms. Bensman told officials she signed the forms with Mr. Damas' name, believing this to be legitimate given that she obtained his permission to do so. She and Mr. Stainbrook said they filed the form because the elections board had urged them to do so to meet a deadline, and Mr. Damas was not available to sign it that day.

A campaign finance examiner for the board, Olga Vellajo, accepted the forms but told investigators she believed Mr. Stainbrook had signed the document.

Mr. Damas later filed a signed, amended document.

"The intent articulated by both Stainbrook and Bensman was to file the form in a timely manner knowing that they could amend the document later," Mr. Gutierrez wrote. "Further, since Stainbrook and Bensman completed the act in an open and obvious circumstance which [Vellajo] witnessed would give rise to the inference that Stainbrook and Bensman's intention was not to deceive the [board]."

Mr. Gutierrez said the incorrect signature could only be considered an administrative violation, not a criminal one. He said it would be up to the Lucas County prosecutor to decide whether to pursue the matter.

Ms. Bensman said she was happy with the prosecutor's decision, calling the accusations of forgery that led to the investigation "completely ridiculous."

Mr. Stainbrook echoed her remarks, denouncing the board's request for an investigation into the signatures as politically motivated.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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