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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Ex-BWC official named in N.H. probe

BY STEVE EDER
AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Gasper Gasper
EMAILED IMAGE / THE PLAIN DEALER Enlarge

COLUMBUS - Terrence Gasper, the former chief financial officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation who is expected to plead guilty this week to corruption charges, was named in a recent investigation detailing allegations of influence-peddling in New Hampshire's pension system.

The investigative report, obtained yesterday by The Blade, said Edward Theobald, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Retirement System,recommended in early 2005 that Mr. Gasper be chosen as a board member of Hermes Technology LLC, an investment firm seeking business with the retirement board. Mr. Theobald, who did not return messages seeking comment, was accused in the report of acting unethically by failing to disclose relationships and gifts from firms seeking business from the retirement fund.

The investigation, conducted for the New Hampshire Retirement System by the Boston law firm Bingham McCutchen, accuses Mr. Theobald, a Democrat, of taking free rent, meals, and entertainment from marketing executive Clarke Blizzard - a former minor-league hockey player who has caught the eye of Ohio investigators.

Ohio authorities are examining Mr. Blizzard's relationships with officials at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, according to a member of the state and federal task force investigating the bureau's investment practices.

Mr. Gasper, who was forced to resign from the bureau in October, 2004, is alleged to have taken $25,000 from rare-coin dealer Tom Noe, accepted use of a condo in the Florida Keys from two investment brokers, and accepted $9,000 from an investment marketer to cover his son's college tuition.

Mr. Gasper was charged Thursday with state and federal counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and money laundering.

Noe faces a 53-count felony indictment that accuses him of stealing from the state's $50 million rare-coin investment he managed, but authorities have not named or charged the two brokers and marketer.

Mr. Blizzard, who could not be reached for comment, is a former executive with Northwinds Marketing Group, a Minnesota-based firm that represented American Express Asset Management.

Last summer, the Bureau of Workers' Compensationrevealed that it had placed $550 million in two hedge funds managed by American Express Capital Management. The bureau, reeling from the disclosure that it lost $215 million in a hedge fund managed by MDL Capital Management, began liquidating the American Express investments.

Bureau officials also acknowledged that the American Express hedge-fund ventures were improperly identified as venture-capital investments. There was also concern that the bureau entered into the hedge funds before the agency was permitted to make such investments under its own policies.

Karl Schneider, an Ohio-based attorney for Northwinds Marketing, said Mr. Blizzard left the marketing firm in 2004. Mr. Schneider said Northwinds has gotten subpoenas and has cooperated with investigators.

"Northwinds, as far as we can tell from everything that I've been aware of, has acted above board and lawfully," Mr. Schneider said.

Last year, Northwinds paid about $104,000 and American Express paid nearly $60,000 in fines after their representatives allegedly showered trustees of the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund with gifts. At least two fund trustees have been convicted on ethics charges stemming from the scandal.

Asked if Mr. Blizzard played a role in the Police & Fire investigation, Mr. Schneider said, "tangentially, yes." He declined to comment further.

Mr. Blizzard also has been associated with Technology Venture Partners, a Minnesota-based venture capital firm that sought investment business from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and the New Hampshire Retirement System Board in 2004.

In July, 2004, the Bureau of Workers' compensation announced plans to invest in Technology Venture Partners, as part of Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier Project. Since 1997, Mr. Blizzard has contributed $3,000 to Ohio Republicans, including Mr. Taft.

In August, 2004, Mr. Blizzard appeared on behalf of Technology Venture Partners in front of the New Hampshire retirement board "with Mr. Theobald presiding" and helped convince the board to invest $10 million with the firm.

Mr. Theobald may have acted unethically by accepting free office space, meals, and entertainment from Mr. Blizzard, and by not disclosing his dealings with him to his fellow board members, the investigative report says.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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