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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2004

Inquiry into Kest expenses drags on

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

County residents don't know if the treasurer broke the law, and Mr. Kest remains neither exonerated nor charged.

Special Prosecutor Mark Mulligan of Ottawa County said he's waiting for the Ohio Auditor's Office to complete an audit of county finances before moving forward.

"There was an audit conducted of [Lucas] county government by Ernst & Young and that audit has not been released yet," said Mr. Mulligan, who marks one year on the case Thursday. "The audit, and any management letters that accompany the audit, is something I should factor into my consideration."

Jennifer Detwiler, a spokesman for the state auditor's office, said the annual county audit is being reviewed, but it's unclear when it will be made public.

"It's definitely in its final stage, but I can't give you a good idea of what that translates into time-wise," she said.

Mr. Kest came under investigation after The Blade reported he had spent $14,683 of public funds for expenses related to his PhD studies, including tuition, hotel rooms, books, and travel in

a county vehicle.

Part of the money came from a fund dedicated to the collection of delinquent taxes. Ms. Detwiler, though not commenting on Mr. Kest's situation,

said last year that using the delinquent tax fund to pursue a graduate degree was not proper.

Last year, Mr. Kest said his use of public money for his doctoral studies in economic development was justified because the knowledge he was gaining would help increase the tax base in Lucas County.

After Mr. Mulligan was appointed to the case, Mr. Kest gave his attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, $14,683 to put into his trust account in the event that the expenditures were found to be improper.

Mr. Wittenberg said he did not want to comment on the case because it was still pending. Mr. Kest did not return a call seeking comment.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Charles Wittenberg appointed Mr. Mulligan to the case after Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she could not investigate because the treasurer technically is her client under state law.

Judge Wittenberg said he wondered what's going on with the investigation but added that his involvement ended once the prosecutor was appointed.

"I don't have any oversight as to how he proceeds," the judge said. "It's as if he was our prosecutor doing whatever he thinks needs to be done."

Other local officials such as the Lucas County commissioners have raised questions about the length of the investigation. Harry Barlos, president of the board of commissioners, said he hopes the matter soon will be resolved one way or the other.

"I think it's only fair that they bring it to a conclusion," he said. "[Ray Kest] deserves to bring this to closure and have the prosecutor render a decision. I'm sure there are residents who have forgotten about this. They probably figure that they missed the headline and it was concluded."

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she, too, has been curious about the status of the case and often fields questions from people who wonder where things stand.

"It seems to me it shouldn't have taken this long, but I'm not an attorney," she said.

Mr. Mulligan said he has not been contacted by any county officials requesting information, but he understands why people have questioned the length of the investigation.

"I am aware that the public is interested in the case and I would like to see it come to a conclusion," he said.

Contact Dale Emch at:

daleemch@theblade.com

or 419 724-6061.



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