COLUMBUS - Two aides to former Ohio attorney general Marc Dann pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor ethics violations as part of a deal that will have them cooperating with continuing investigations.
Leo Jennings III, Mr. Dann's former communications director, and Edgar C. Simpson, the former attorney general's chief of staff, entered the pleas before Franklin County Municipal Court Judge H. William Pollitt, Jr.
Mr. Jennings received a suspended jail sentence and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service for illegally using Dann campaign funds to pay rent at a condo and failure to publicly disclose supplemental political consulting income from the campaign and Ohio Democratic Party.
He is also barred from serving in public office for seven years.
Mr. Simpson was fined $1,000 after he pleaded guilty to not disclosing income from Mr. Dann's campaign and Mr. Dann's transition accounts. Transition accounts, often fueled with corporate money, are meant to pay costs associated with a newly elected official's inaugural activities.
Mr. Jennings shared the condo with Anthony Gutierrez, another top Dann aide, as well as Mr. Dann himself on occasion.
"There was a specific agreement between Gutierrez, Jennings, and former Attorney General Marc Dann that they did not have enough income from their public role to afford their living expenses in Columbus.,'' said David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission after the pleas.
"[Mr. Jennings] asked for an increase in his salary,'' he said. "Instead of being given an increase in his public salary, he was given transition funds in the payment of his rent. That's the problem with this case, and it's a serious problem, because the public expects that public officials are paid out of the public treasury, not from some third-party-source where divided loyalties in the performance of duties would be expected. This whole situation is a classic example of that outcome.''
Mr. Jennings said he received bad advice from two in-house lawyers before accepting the campaign cash to cover rent expenses, although Mr. Freel said the investigation showed that those lawyers didn't have the full picture of the situation.
Mr. Jennings attributed the absence of the supplemental income from his financial disclosure report to error.
"When I filled out that ethics report, my whole world had just collapsed,'' Mr. Jennings said outside the courtroom. "I'd been fired. I knew I wasn't going to be coming back to work for the state. It's not an excuse. It's just what the situation was at the time.''
His attorney, Martin E. Yavorcik, noted the filing occurred as the "house of cards'' around Mr. Dann and Mr. Jennings had come crashing down.
Under pressure from Republicans and fellow Democrats alike, Mr. Dann resigned in May 2008 after riding GOP scandals into office in 2006. The resignation occurred after revelation of sexual harassment scandals involving Gutierrez and Mr. Dann's confession that his own consensual, extramarital affair with his office scheduler may have set a poor example.
Gutierrez pleaded guilty last August to theft in office and unauthorized use of public property, both fifth-degree felonies, and other crimes. He has been serving a 45-day jail sentence in weekend increments.
While serving as Mr. Dann's general services director, Gutierrez used attorney general staff, equipment, and time to operate his private construction business, accepting a total of $5,000 from Mr. Dann's campaign committee for rent, accepting $5,000 from the transition fund for window and bathroom renovations done by his business and subcontractors to Mr. Dann's private home, and lying in ethics and workers' compensation filings.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.
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