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Published: 7/1/2005

Ex-pension fund official accused of ethics violation

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - A former member of the state teachers retirement system board has been accused of violating ethics laws by accepting tickets for Cleveland Indians games and a Broadway show and other gifts from investors doing business with the pension fund's board.

Hazel Sidaway, a member of the State Teachers Retirement System board from 1986 to 2003, was charged with seven ethics violations in Franklin County Municipal Court on Wednesday, said Lara Baker, chief legal counsel for the Columbus city attorney's criminal division.

Ms. Sidaway, who represented active teachers on the board, accepted four Cleveland Indians' tickets in 2001 worth $30 each from Smith Barney, now a subsidiary of CitiGroup, Ms. Baker said yesterday.

In 2002, Ms. Sidaway accepted dinners at three upscale Columbus restaurants with a total value of about $240 from Tacoma, Wash.-based Russell Investment Group, Ms. Baker said. In 2003, she accepted Broadway tickets to Hairspray for her husband and herself worth $550, also from Russell Investment Group, Ms. Baker said.

Ms. Sidaway also is charged with failing to report those gifts on financial disclosure forms as required by law.

Ms. Sidaway also faces a general charge of accepting several additional meals and hotel stays from vendors from 1998 through 2003, Ms. Baker said.

The city filed charges after the Ohio Ethics Commission forwarded the results of its investigation into allegations against Ms. Sidaway, Ms. Baker said.

Ms. Sidaway did not return a message seeking comment yesterday.

The retirement system serves more than 410,000 active and retired educators with assets of about $54 billion.

Following allegations of misspending by members of Ohio pension system boards, lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring the boards to adopt ethics and travel policies.

A former director of the teachers retirement system resigned in 2003 amid heavy criticism over spending millions of dollars on bonuses, artwork, and travel at the same time that assets plunged.

Smith Barney is "cooperating fully with the authorities," said spokesman Katrina Clay, who declined to comment further.

The Russell Investment Group cooperated fully with the ethics commission, said spokesman Jennifer Tice.

The company "hosts educational seminars and conferences on a routine basis where social activities are available to clients at their choice and at Russell's expense," she said.

The retirement system is confident the allegations involve isolated incidents, said fund spokesman Laura Ecklar.

"There's nothing to indicate our members' pension funds were ever adversely impacted or any favoritism was shown to any vendors," she said. "This is a past issue that's going to have to be addressed, but we are focused on going forward."



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