Ohio Dems decry lack of charges in scandal

8/7/2012
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Superintendent of Education Stan Heffner, left, and Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, right.
Superintendent of Education Stan Heffner, left, and Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, right.

COLUMBUS — Democrats said Monday that Ohio's top education official should not be allowed to simply walk away from his job as planned without at least the threat of criminal charges.

The first major official of Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration to face significant allegations of wrongdoing, Superintendent of Education Stan Heffner quietly submitted a brief letter of resignation Saturday that will take effect Friday.

He admitted that, while he was still interim superintendent, he testified before lawmakers in favor of more competency testing for teachers without revealing he'd accepted a job in Texas with a standardized testing firm seeking to do business with the state.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern has tried to draw correlations with the case of Tom Noe, the former Toledo-area coin dealer and Lucas County Republican Party chairman imprisoned for stealing from a $50 million rare-coin investment fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

"It ain't Beanie Babies and gold coins, but a theft is a theft," Mr. Redfern said.

State Inspector General Randall J. Meyer found "reasonable cause" that Mr. Heffner also used state-paid staff and his state-issued cell phone and email accounts to prepare for the move from Ohio to San Antonio, sell his Westerville home, and negotiate his employment agreement with Educational Testing Service.

The company has its product development and service base of operations in San Antonio.

Despite his findings, Mr. Meyer did not refer his report to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien as is often done in other cases when tax dollars were found to have been misused for personal gain.

In March the inspector general found that an employee of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation had used state equipment to benefit his private business and referred that case to the prosecutor.

Instead, the inspector general referred the report to the State Board of Education, which planned to address the issue at its September meeting.

But Mr. O'Brien considered it to be an informal referral and decided to look into the case.

He said his office was contacted by an attorney for Mr. Heffner, and at some point he will talk with Columbus Prosecutor Richard Pfeiffer. Mr. O'Brien's office would pursue felonies while Mr. Pfeiffer's office would handle misdemeanors.

The Ohio Ethics Commission also participated in interviews during the investigation, according to the inspector general's report.

"Ron O'Brien and the city prosecutor's office both got copies of the report as soon as it was released," said Carl A. Enslen, deputy inspector general for external relations. "With violations involving ethics, [the ethics commission] was obviously involved in interviews. There was no reason to do a referral."

Mr. Redfern said he lacks confidence in the Republican county prosecutor and called for Attorney General Mike DeWine, also a Republican, to appoint a special prosecutor.

"If the attorney general of this state would get involved and appoint a special prosecutor, then the political flamethrowers like me would have reason to be ignored," he said.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the attorney general does not appoint special prosecutors unless the request is made by the county prosecutor because of concern over a potential conflict of interest.

"The attorney general doesn't have that authority, and Chris Redfern knows that," Mr. O'Brien said.

Mr. Kasich's office declined to comment. Rep. Debbie Phillips (D., Athens), who brought the allegations of Mr. Heffner's conflict of interest to the inspector general's attention, said she would not prejudge Mr. O'Brien's decision on whether to prosecute.

"It is my understanding that the Franklin County prosecutor's office is investigating, whether the report was officially forwarded to him or not," she said.

"The conflict of interest aspect is clearly laid out, and there are also some issues pertaining to use of state equipment and time," she said. "But that's going to be up to the prosecutors."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.