COLUMBUS - When an Ohio politician or staffer takes a turn onto unethical ground, it often falls to Columbus chief prosecutor Stephen McIntosh to retrace the path taken.
When it's the governor and some of his current and former staff under investigation, the whole state takes notice of the criminal prosecutor and his city office with 27 staff attorneys.
The state and nation also took notice in 2001 when Cincinnati city leaders asked the black lawyer to help quell racial tension by becoming a special prosecutor there in the case of a white officer, Stephen Roach, who fatally shot Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old black man who had many outstanding traffic violations and led several officers on a brief foot chase.
Mr. McIntosh - a second-in-command to city Prosecutor Richard Pfeiffer, Jr. - is in the news again, saying this week he plans to file charges by tomorrow against Brian Hicks, a former aide to Gov. Bob Taft. Mr. Hicks was the Republican governor's chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 and is now a politically connected lobbyist.
Mr. Hicks and others from the governor's office are being investigated for unreported gifts from state vendors. Mr. Hicks is being investigated for two stays at former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe's Florida vacation home at a reduced rental rate in 2002 and again in 2003.
Mr. McIntosh's anticipated charge against Mr. Hicks into unreported gifts would be the first criminal prosecution to come out of a widening rare-coin scandal enveloping state government.
It almost seems a quirk of law that a city department would be the office to investigate state ethics law violations. But Mr. McIntoshhas taken on the high-profile cases in the past and has gained a reputation as a professional neutral party.
Ohio State University political science professor Herb Asher, who was appointed to Ohio Ethics Commission in 1998 and elected its chairman in 2003, said Mr. McIntosh is known for being fair. The professor's term expired at the end of 2003.
The prosecutor is "highly regarded" and known as a "very competent fellow," he said.
Mr. McIntosh, a 1983 Ohio State University law school graduate, is used to the limelight.
He helps prosecute the most violent criminals in this capital city.
But the lawyer may be better known for being called upon to help heal Cincinnati's racial wounds after a white police officer shot and killed a black man in the spring of 2001.
The shooting sparked three days of rioting and looting in Cincinnati, and the national media broadcast images of the violence and unrest.
Leaders in the southwest Ohio city, which also is Governor Taft's hometown, wanted a neutral outsider to prosecute the officer and needed someone who could quell public outrage and suspicion among the black community.
Mr. McIntosh fit the role as a respected professional who has served on the Race Relations Vision Council with the United Way and on the Columbus Bar Association's Domestic Violence and Racial Profiling task forces. He currently serves on the bar association's board of governors.
Mr. McIntosh accused the 27-year-old police officer of negligent homicide and obstructing official business.
But the judge found him not guilty.
Mr. McIntosh did not return a call to The Blade yesterday. Lawyers for Mr. Hicks also did not return phone calls.
The investigation into the former Taft aide began after Mr. Hicks, for a May 12 Blade story, said he paid $300 to $500 for five nights in the Noes' 3,600-square-foot waterfront Florida home in 2002 and stayed there again for a few days a year later.
He said initially, in May, that he could not recall if his first stay at the house was in 2001 or 2002. He said he did not report the stay because he felt he paid market rate, which area rental agents told The Blade is normally $2,000 and up per week.
Mr. Noe is under investigation by state over the rare-coin investment, which his lawyers say is missing up to $13 million.
Improper receipt of gifts can bring a misdemeanor charge that can result in a $1,000 fine and a possible six months in jail. Failing to disclose the gifts carries a $250 fine and a possible 30 days in jail.
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