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Published: 7/16/2006

Gasper, son enjoyed perks from BWC job

BY STEVE EDER
AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Terrence Gasper, the former chief financial officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, shared with those close to him the lavish perks he enjoyed as the manager of the agency's $15 billion investment portfolio, according to documents obtained by The Blade.

Gasper - who has pleaded guilty to charges he accepted bribes from investment brokers in exchange for millions of dollars in business - took his college-age son, Phil, to fancy dinners and on vacations where he met with several money managers whose names have surfaced in the wide-ranging corruption probe of the embattled agency.

Other information obtained by The Blade shows that Clarke Blizzard, an investment marketer who has caught the eye of investigators, was no stranger to Phil Gasper's friends. In February, 2005, a friend of Phil Gasper posted a message on the controversial MySpace.com suggesting Mr. Blizzard should finance a trip to Chicago.

Last month, Terrence Gasper pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges, admitting he doled out bureau investment business to investment brokers who provided him with the use of a condominium in the Florida Keys, $9,000 to cover his son's college tuition, a $25,000 investment, and other gratuities.

So far, prosecutors have charged Cleveland-area investment brokers Michael Lewis and Daniel O'Neil with providing the condo in Islamorada for Gasper. Both Mr. Lewis and Mr. O'Neil have pleaded not guilty.

Authorities have identified - but not charged - former Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe as the money manager who made a $25,000 investment in a technology start-up company in the name of Gasper's former girlfriend, Betsy Ratcliff, which was meant for Gasper. Separately, Noe has pleaded not guilty to corruption and theft charges for his handling of the bureau's $50 million rare-coin venture.

Prosecutors have not named the investment marketer who paid $9,000 toward Phil Gasper's college tuition, according to the charges filed against Terrence Gasper.

Terrence Gasper and Phil Gasper would not comment and Ms. Ratcliff did not return messages.

In addition, prosecutors say Gasper tapped into "substantial dozens"

of bureau vendors on at least 150 occasions for gratuities as he accepted thousands of dollars in gifts, meals, sporting tickets, and other gratuities.

In a Jan. 28, 2004, e-mail, Terrence Gasper asked his son to take part in a gathering in Philadelphia with a group of people who have since emerged as key figures in the investment scandal that has gripped the bureau. Participants in the event, which occurred in February, 2004, included Mark Lay, the CEO of MDL Capital Management; Patrick White, the CEO of Great Lakes Capital Partners, and Mildred "Mimi" Forbes, an MDL employee and daughter of George Forbes, then a member of the bureau's oversight committee.

"Pat White would like for me and Mark Lay, the guy who helped us with Topdog tickets and your shipping, to fly up for dinner some night with you, and we [Gasper and Mr. White] would just fly back the same night," Gasper wrote in the e-mail to his son, then a student at Philadelphia's University of The Arts. "Could be fun."

Last summer, Pittsburgh-based MDL came under scrutiny for its handling of the bureau's investment in a Bermuda-based hedge-fund that lost $216 million for the bureau. Mr. Forbes resigned from the oversight commission after the bureau was forced to disclose its losses in MDL amid the scandal.

Eric Kuwana, an attorney for Mr. Lay, said his client recalls Gasper contacting him for help in obtaining tickets to a production of Topdog, which he characterized as "small-production play." In the fall of 2003, tickets for Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Topdog/Underdog sold for $30 to $45, according to the organization's web site.

"[Mr. Lay] doesn't recall whether or not he paid for those tickets," Mr. Kuwana said.

Mr. Kuwana added that on the request of Gasper, Mr. Lay looked into helping him find someone to move or ship his son's items from college but that Mr. Lay never provided any help to Gasper's son because Gasper later indicated that someone else would take care of the shipping issue.

On Feb. 20, 2004, Gasper and his son had dinner at Morimoto's, a trendy, upscale Japanese restaurant in Philadelphia with Mr. Lay, Mr. White, and Ms. Forbes.

Mr. Kuwana explained the Philadelphia gathering, saying that "Pat White called Mark and asked him to go to dinner" and that Mr. Lay "did not pay for the dinner in any way, shape, or form."

In 2002, the SEC contacted the bureau after noticing that fees paid to two firms operated by Mr. White - U.S. Discount Brokerage and Great Lakes Capital - had received fees from the bureau that were 20 percent higher than industry standards. Mr. White's firms have collected $3.35 million in commissions from the bureau since 1999, records show.

Mark Stanton, an attorney for Mr. White, has said his client received a "target" letter from federal prosecutors, but he declined to comment for this story.

The Jan. 28, 2004, message also reference Denny Meadors, an investment broker with Raymond James & Associates, and Mr. Blizzard, an investment marketer with ties to firms with business relationships with the bureau.

"Denny Meadors sends his best," Gasper wrote.

Mr. Meadors, whose firm has received $4.5 million in commissions from the bureau since 1996, said Friday that he had met Phil Gasper but declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation into the bureau's investment department.

Gasper also suggested in the e-mail that his son try the "not cheap" Palm restaurant and charge it to his father's credit card, noting, "We had been scheduled there with Clarke a long time ago and never went."

There were other occasions when Gasper met with Mr. Blizzard, a Boston-based investment marketer who pitched investment products for American Express Asset Management, which handled $550 million in two hedge funds for the bureau, and Technology Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that in 2004 secured $10 million in funding from the agency. A phone number listed for Mr. Blizzard's last known address in Boston was disconnected.

In March, 2004, Mr. Blizzard joined Gasper and his son for a fishing excursion during a trip to Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

"Clarke and the twins are coming down to islamorada [sic] the 10th and 11th to see us," Gasper wrote to his son. "They're thinking a day fishing and maybe a day in key west."

In at least two other messages to his son, Gasper passed along greetings from Mr. Blizzard, a former minor-league hockey player. In another message, Gasper's friend, Gideon Miller, asked for Mr. Blizzard's address so he could invite him to his August, 2004, wedding.

Mr. Miller, a former bartender at Rigsby's, a restaurant in the trendy Short North area near downtown Columbus, said he met Gasper and Mr. Blizzard about five years ago when they would drop in regularly at Rigsby's. Mr. Miller said he invited Mr. Blizzard to his wedding, but the investment marketer did not attend.

Mr. Miller, who described Mr. Blizzard as a "nice guy," said he was "very surprised" by Gasper's guilty pleas on corruption charges.

"The whole situation is kind of scary; when you see a friend or someone you know - and all this stuff going on that you don't know about," Mr. Miller said.

Phil Gasper's friends also were aware of Mr. Blizzard.

In February, 2005, Phil Gasper's friend, Andrew Beller wrote to Nathan Hicks on his MySpace.com page, "... you should call phil and convince him to ask clark [sic] blizzard to finance a 3-4 day trip to chicago for me."

Mr. Hicks, a student in Chicago who said he has met Mr. Blizzard a handful of times, said the posting was probably a joke and that he had no knowledge of the investment marketer providing any gifts for travel to the Gasper family.

Considering Mr. Blizzard's surname and the fact that he was a hockey player, Mr. Hicks said, "He seemed like a magical man, even though we didn't know him yet. We just knew of his existence so we just kind of threw his name around. There was no grounds for it. That was simply a joke."

Mr. Beller, who lived in Ohio at the time he posted the comment to MySpace.com and is now a student in Chicago, initially responded to a message from The Blade by saying, "I ain't a snitch." He later referred reporters to James Gilbert, one of the attorneys representing Gasper. Mr. Gilbert declined comment.

In June, 2004, Ms. Ratcliff, Gasper's former girlfriend, sent him a message that referred to Mr. Blizzard and some of the bureau's other money managers.

"I haven't heard from Clarke since the day he got to [the Columbus suburb of] Worthington. He was going to call me after dinner. Is everything all right?" she wrote.

"Wanted to let you know that Denny M. called about getting together for a drink or dinner," wrote Ms. Ratcliff, referring to Mr. Meadors.

Ms. Ratcliff's message came a couple days after Gasper returned to the bureau from a three-month absence because of an illness.

"Hope you had a good first day even though it had a rocky start," Ms. Ratcliff wrote. "Won't be too long until you can retire and put the BWC behind you."

Less than four months later, Gasper was forced to resign because of the losses in the MDL hedge-fund. Bureau officials initially lied about his resignation, attributing it to health problems until they were forced to disclose the real circumstances surrounding his departure in June, 2005.

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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