Wife of ex-AG Marc Dann pleads guilty to ethics violation


COLUMBUS - The estranged wife of former Ohio attorney general Marc Dann Monday received a suspended 10-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to using her connections with her husband's office to secure a public grant for a class she was teaching.

Alyssa Lenhoff, 47, pleaded guilty to "knowingly" having an unlawful interest in a public contract before Franklin County Municipal Judge Harland H. Hale, but afterwards she said she didn't know at the time that pursuing the $6,500 grant was wrong.

"I didn't know at the time that it was a problem. I do now," she told reporters. "I'm terribly sorry."

Her plea deal on the first-degree misdemeanor, which also included a $1,000 fine, will require her to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into her husband's office and to testify if necessary. That means she could not invoke marital privilege against testifying about communications with her husband should charges ultimately be filed against Mr. Dann.

Mr. Dann was pressured by Republicans and fellow Democrats alike to resign just 16 months into his term following revelations of sexual harassment involving his aide, Anthony Gutierrez, and after Mr. Dann confessed to his own extramarital affair with his office scheduler.

Ms. Lenhoff agreed that she had solicited her husband's former chief of staff, Edgar Simpson, between April, 2007 and February, 2008 for a grant to help fund a journalism class studying criminal cold cases at Youngstown State University where she is director of the journalism program.

The grant was approved and a letter had been sent to the university informing it of this, but Mr. Dann stopped the check when staff questioned the conflict of interest.

On Monday, the journalism professor found herself on the other side of microphones and cameras outside the courtroom. Her estranged husband did not attend the court proceedings. Afterwards, she met with prosecutors to further discuss the investigation.

"I'm so happy to be having the last couple of years a chance to kind of put everything back behind me [and my children] and just move on?," she said. On the advice of her Columbus attorney, Sam Shamansky, she declined to comment on whether she'd been asked to testify against her husband.

But when asked if she were "blind sided" by the scandals in her husband's office, she responded simply, "No."

"Her cooperation has been fair and open," said David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission. "This has been an extremely embarrassing event for her overall."

In March, Leo A. Jennings III, Mr. Dann's former communications director, and Mr. Simpson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor ethics charges. Gutierrez pleaded guilty in August to theft in office and unauthorized use of public property and other crimes.

If Mr. Dann is charged with a misdemeanor, the statute of limitations will expire on May 14, the two-year anniversary of his resignation. If the charges are felonies, prosecutors have four more years to file.