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Published: 12/23/2008

Dann abused office, power, report says

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Former Attorney General Marc Dann turned the office of the "people's lawyer" into a "house of scandal" in just 16 months, a state investigative report charged yesterday.

Inspector General Tom Charles found Mr. Dann and top aides plundered his campaign-committee account and a separate account for his transition into office to finance personal expenses like family vacations and cell phones and stacked his office with unqualified cronies who, in turn, got both him and themselves into trouble.

Mr. Charles last week referred allegations of wrongdoing regarding Mr. Dann to the Ohio Elections Commission, and yesterday's report also indicated referrals to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and Ohio Department of Taxation.

The Ohio Ethics Commission also has referred a felony allegation that Mr. Dann's close friend and a former top aide, Anthony Gutierrez, used state property to benefit his private construction business to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien for possible prosecution.

Mr. Charles said his office had to strive not to make its report an "an X-rated report," but he noted the report still contained "power, money, and sex."

"Tawdry news stories about vulgar and flirtatious interactions between managers and subordinates, the hiring of people with criminal records and other legal problems, and Dann's admission that he had a romantic affair with a young female staffer finally helped drive Dann from office," the report reads.

Mr. Dann and his wife, Alyssa Lenhoff Dann, refused to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

But yesterday the former state senator came out swinging, accusing Mr. Charles of intentionally presenting the report in a light most damaging to the former attorney general, who was pushed to resign by Republicans and fellow Democrats alike.

He suggested Mr. Charles has not forgiven him for being critical of the inspector general for not acting more aggressively against wrongdoing at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation that led to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in investment funds.

Mr. Dann rode an anti-corruption campaign into office.

"The inspector general's report is filled with innuendo instead of fact," Mr. Dann said. "Instead of legal analysis, it's designed to justify the precipitated action of the inspector general and other state officials. It fails to identify, other than one employee in the office, any substantive violation of the law.

"If the allegations in the report were true, how could I have so aggressively taken action against many special interests who are happy to see me leave office?" he asked.

Commission Executive Director David Freel said Mr. Gutierrez did cooperate with the ethics investigation as it pertained to other people, but invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when it came to questions about himself.

Mr. Gutierrez, the subject of two sexual-harassment complaints, also is accused of padding bills paid by Mr. Dann's campaign committee for installation of security windows at Mr. Dann's home and redirecting the excess money to pay three businesses that Mr. Gutierrez's private business owed money to for work unrelated to Mr. Dann.

A special audit conducted by Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor, a Republican, alleges $661,834 in misspent funds, including flights on state planes for what appeared to be personal purposes and the spending of crime victims' fund monies and other specialty monies for disallowed purposes, including the buying of 99 new vehicles.

While noting that this was not necessarily illegal, she said the audit issued findings against Mr. Dann for return of the money.

"As elected officials, we have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and uphold the integrity of the office we are elected to serve," she said. "Unfortunately, Marc Dann did not pass these tests."

Allegations that Mr. Dann had illegally tapped his campaign committee and transition account for snacks, family vacations, cell-phone bills, a $41,000 security system for his Youngstown-area home, and other personal expenses were referred last week to the state elections commission.

According to the report, Mr. Dann spent more than $186,000 from a transition account that had at one point contained better than $195,000.

The filing also accused Mr. Dann's fired communications director, Leo Jennings, of using campaign money to pay rent on a condo he shared with Mr. Dann and Mr. Gutierrez. A preliminary review of the allegations is scheduled for Jan. 22.

"By tapping these easily available contributions, which were given to him by more-than-willing interested outside parties, he supplemented his statutory wage from the state of Ohio and used the money to pay personal expenses that had no relation to his office or his campaign," Mr. Charles' report reads.

He suggested that the General Assembly should consider legislation placing more oversight over the operation of campaign and transition committees.

The report paints the picture of a once-promising Democratic politician who pulled a surprise upset in 2006 over Republican Betty Montgomery, a former attorney general, only to place "unqualified and incompetent" friends in key supervisory positions.

"Dann's willingness to commandeer state vehicles and state aircraft for personal use, his administration's decision to squander tens of thousands of dollars by equipping more than 20 percent of his staff with costly BlackBerry wireless devices, and his cavalier use of [Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation] agents to chauffeur him and his family to a concert, to school events, and to pick up dinnerware orders for his wife's business were a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars," the report states.

The report found that Mr. Gutierrez, the subject of two sexual harassment complaints, was guilty of a pattern of unprofessional conduct, as was Mr. Jennings, who was fired for allegedly trying to influence the testimony of an office employee during the sexual-harassment investigation.

The report found Mr. Dann's wife, who was not employed by the office, had undue influence in hiring and personnel decisions.

Mr. Dann resigned in May after just 16 months in office under threat of impeachment. Just hours before he tendered his resignation, Mr. Charles and other investigators descended upon his downtown Columbus offices, confiscating computer equipment as part of an unprecedented investigation ordered by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

It was the sexual-harassment complaints and investigation that ultimately led to his resignation. This prompted him to admit he may have set a poor example by engaging in his own consensual, extramarital affair with an employee in his office.

Mr. Strickland appointed Nancy Hardin Rogers, on leave from her job as dean of Ohio State University's law school, to run the office until voters selected someone to complete the two years left in Mr. Dann's four-year term.

Mr. Strickland said he had yet to fully read the report yesterday. "A person's innocent until proven guilty, so we'll just see," he said. "I think it's a sad affair. I wish it hadn't happened. I'm glad that I and other leaders of our party took the actions we took to make sure that Mr. Dann did not remain in office. That was the correct course of action."

Voters apparently didn't hold the Dann scandal against Democrats as they elected Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray, a Democrat, on Nov. 4 to serve out Mr. Dann's term. He will be sworn in after the first of the year.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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