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Published: Friday, 5/7/2010

Ex-Ohio Attorney General Dann admits guilt on 2 counts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Marc Dann, who rode Republican scandal into statewide office four years ago, stood before a judge himself Friday and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor ethics violations that will keep him from holding a public job for seven years.

The usually defiant and combative Mr. Dann, who resigned in disgrace just 16 months into his tenure as Ohio attorney general, told the judge he accepted responsibility, but outside the courtroom he questioned the resources put into the two-year investigation of him.

“As you can see from the types of things that I was ultimately charged with, certainly the expenditures on the investigation were out of proportion to the alleged conduct,” Mr. Dann said. “But I do take responsibility. I should have exercised better oversight and stronger oversight, and I didn't.”

He was fined a total of $1,000 for the two charges and ordered to pay court costs and serve 500 hours of community service for improperly providing money from his campaign and inaugural committees to two aides and friends for unofficial use and for filing a false financial disclosure report that omitted additional sources of income.

With that, a two-year investigation that began with sexual harassment allegations and claims of incompetence and cronyism ends with one person convicted of felony charges and four others, including Mr. Dann and his estranged wife, convicted of misdemeanors.

Before Franklin County Municipal Judge Ted Barrows, a subdued Mr. Dann admitted to illegally providing campaign and transition funds to Anthony Gutierrez and Leo Jennings that were used to pay rent on a condominium 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 supposed to be used to cover costs associated with a newly elected official's inaugural activities.

The second charge related to his failure to publicly disclose receiving the benefit of his condo rent being covered by those funds and for a $20,000 private plane trip from Cleveland to Texas to Arizona.

Each charge was a first-degree misdemeanor.

Now Mr. Dann is worried about losing a law license at a time when he is trying to re-establish a private practice and is facing a very public divorce.

He had said previously that he even surprised himself when he defeated veteran Republican Betty Montgomery in 2006, riding a Democratic wave that washed the GOP out of every statewide executive office save one. A year and a half later, he was pressured by Republicans and fellow Democrats to resign after Mr. Gutierrez was accused of sexual harassment by two female employees, allegations largely substantiated by an internal investigation.

When the results of that investigation were announced, Mr. Dann confessed to having had his own consensual, extramarital affair with his office scheduler, an affair that he said may have set a poor example for others in his office.

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 on his ethics disclosure form.

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.



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