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COLUMBUS — The estranged wife of former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann received a suspended 10-day jail sentence Monday and was fined $1,000 for using her connections with her husband's office to win a public grant for a class she was teaching.
Alyssa Lenhoff, 47, pleaded guilty to “knowingly” having an unlawful interest in a public contract.
“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 requires her to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into her husband's tenure and to testify if necessary. That means she could not invoke marital privilege against testifying about communications with her husband should charges be filed against him.
Mr. Dann was pressured by Republicans and fellow Democrats alike to resign just 16 months into his term after allegations of sexual harassment involving Anthony Gutierrez, his top aide and a friend, and after an admission from Mr. Dann to his own extramarital affair with his office scheduler.
Ms. Lenhoff admitted to soliciting Edgar Simpson, a personal friend and her husband's former chief of staff, between April, 2007, and February, 2008, for a $6,500 grant to fund a journalism/criminal justice class on cold cases at Youngstown State University. She's the director of the school's journalism program.
The grant was approved, and a letter was sent to the university informing it of this. But Mr. Dann stopped the check when high-level staff challenged its propriety.
“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 attorney, Sam Shamansky, she declined to comment as to whether she'd been asked to testify against her husband.
But asked if she was “blindsided” by scandals in her husband's office, she said simply, “No.”
The investigative report included an e-mail that, among other things, indicated the grant would include the “instructor fee.” In a later e-mail, Ms Lenhoff wrote, “I would be teaching the advanced reporting course.”
Monday, she said the money would have been used to pay for interns, and her attorney said she would not have personally benefited from the grant.
Mr. Dann did not attend the court proceedings. Afterward, his wife met with investigators.
“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.”
Ms. Lenhoff could have faced as much as six months in prison.
After accepting the plea deal and issuing the sentence, Franklin County Municipal Judge Harland H. Hale noted that he knows Mr. Dann and Ms. Lenhoff through political events.
“I've found you to be a very, very honorable and decent person,” he told Ms. Lenhoff. “It gives me no pleasure to have you here. Alyssa, I wish you well in your future endeavors. I do think that there was a calamity of errors that occurred, that a number of people were in over their heads.”
Ms. Lenhoff, who recently filed for divorce, is the fourth person to enter pleas stemming from Mr. Dann's tenure in office.
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 felony theft in office and unauthorized use of public property and other crimes.
If Mr. Dann is charged with a misdemeanor, the statute of limitations law requires it be filed by May 14, the two-year anniversary of his resignation. If any charges are felonies, prosecutors have four more years to file.
Contact Jim Provance at:firstname.lastname@example.org 614-221-0496.