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Published: Friday, 5/7/2010

Dann set to face ethics charges Friday

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Disgraced former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann is expected to be in court this morning to face misdemeanor campaign fund and ethics charges.

With the two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges expiring next week, Mr. Dann likely will be the last person charged in the scandal associated with his 16-month tenure as attorney general. That scandal, which began with sexual harassment allegations, has resulted in felony or misdemeanor convictions for three of his top aides and his estranged wife.

Following a flurry of negotiations over a potential plea deal yesterday, Mr. Dann, a former Youngstown area state senator, is expected to enter pleas this morning before Franklin County Municipal Judge Ted Barrows.

According to a source close to the investigation, he will address charges that he illegally provided payments from his campaign committee and his inaugural activity account to former aides Anthony Gutierrez and Leo Jennings that were used to pay rent on a condo he shared with them and for Mr. Gutierrez to pay subcontractors related to his private construction business.

Transition accounts, often fueled with corporate money, are intended to pay costs associated with a newly elected official's inaugural activities.

The second charge relates to his failure to report additional income on his ethics disclosure form.

Each is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on the charge related to improper compensation would bar him from holding public office or serving in public employment for seven years.

County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien confirmed Mr. Dann will appear in court and that the Ohio Ethics Commission investigation into the scandals has been completed. He declined to discuss the matter further.

Mr. Dann, a Democrat, rode Republican scandal into office in a 2006 win that he later admitted even took him by surprise. Sixteen months later, he was pressured into resigning after allegations of sexual harassment were made against Mr. Gutierrez by two female employees and Mr. Dann admitted to his own consensual, extramarital affair with his office scheduler.

The state investigation that followed revealed a frat-house atmosphere encouraged by the attorney general and his closest aides, but the inquiry strayed beyond the allegations of sexual harassment, coverup, and incompetence that led lawmakers to initiate it.

Mr. Gutierrez pleaded guilty in August to felony theft in office, unauthorized use of public property, soliciting improper compensation, and ethics charges. He served 45 days in jail.

Leo A. Jennings III, Mr. Dann's former communications director, received a suspended sentence for using some $15,000 in Dann campaign and transition funds to pay condo rent and failing to disclose supplemental political consulting income.

The Gutierrez and Jennings pleas, as they related to receiving improper compensation, are tied to the charges that Mr. Dann illegally provided that money.

Also, Edgar C. Simpson, Mr. Dann's former chief of staff, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge of failing to publicly disclose income.

Mr. Dann's wife, Alyssa Lenhoff, recently pleaded to a misdemeanor for soliciting her husband's office for a grant for Youngstown State University, where she works. She recently filed for divorce.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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