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Published: Friday, 9/15/2006

More BWC meals, perks reported

BY MIKE WILKINSON AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
O'Neil O'Neil
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Federal prosecutors have uncovered more meals and perks including cash that they believe two stockbrokers used to bribe the former chief financial officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.

The U.S. attorney s office has identified a dozen additional meals, as well as tickets to a magic show, allegedly paid for by either Daniel P. O Neil or Michael W. Lewis. They also dropped a few as well into a court filing this week.

All told, prosecutors now list 32 instances in which they claim that Mr. O Neil or Mr. Lewis and often both gave Terry Gasper cash or tickets or bought meals for him and others. The total value is now nearly $9,900, up from $7,700.

Although unidentified, other recipients allegedly include friends of Gasper and other employees of the bureau s investment department.

Lewis, left. Lewis, left.
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Prosecutors also claim to have found instances in which Mr. O Neil gave Gasper between $100 and $200 in cash, with instructions to spend it on the children.

The new meals include more visits to the upscale Worthington Inn near Columbus, as well as Katzinger s Deli, where the tab routinely reached into the hundreds of dollars.

Greg White, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said he could not comment on the new information.

William Beyer, the Cleveland attorney representing Mr. O Neil, declined comment. Roger Synenberg, the attorney representing Mr. Lewis, couldn t be reached for comment.

Mr. O Neil and Mr. Lewis are accused of plying Gasper with the perks in addition to the previously disclosed use of a $750,000 condominium in the Florida Keys.

Prosecutors allege that Gasper then gave millions of dollars in BWC business to the men s brokerage firms.

The brokers have helped firms they represent collect about $3.2 million in commissions from the bureau since 1997, according to the bureau.

Mr. Lewis and Mr. O Neil were indicted after a joint state-federal task force began investigating the bureau s investment practices after former coin dealer Tom Noe was accused of embezzling from two coin funds he managed for the bureau.

His trial begins Oct. 10 in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Mr. Lewis and Mr. O Neil are charged with violating federal law by conspiring to bribe Gasper, committing mail and wire fraud by arranging to buy the condo for Gasper s use, and making false statements to federal investigators when they claimed that Gasper had no involvement in the Florida Keys condo.

Mr. Lewis and Mr. O Neil, who have rejected a plea bargain offered by the U.S. attorney s office, face a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of probation on the charge of conspiring to bribe Gasper.

On the other three counts, they face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of probation.

The trial, initially scheduled to begin Sept. 25, will likely be delayed until early November. U.S. District Judge David Dowd in Akron has tentatively agreed to delay the trial until Nov. 6 at the earliest. That is one day before the statewide election.

The brokers were charged shortly after Gasper pleaded guilty to racketeering counts of extortion for his role in the deals with them and others. He is expected to testify against Mr. O Neil and Mr. Lewis.

Both defense attorneys and the U.S. attorney s office are arguing whether evidence related to the brokerage firms performance can be admitted at trial.

Attorneys Mr. Synenberg and Dominic Coletta, who are representing Mr. Lewis, believe the performance of the stock trades would show that the bureau s investment business with the defendants performed extremely well and was profitable to the OBWC.

But prosecutors said performance doesn t matter. As the assistant U.S. attorney previously advised the court, the Bureau of Workers Compensation did not lose money on its investments with the defendants.

The essence of the charges are that Lewis and O Neil bribed Gasper to obtain and maintain [bureau] business. The performance of investments has no bearing on that issue.

Judge Dowd initially rejected the defense request. But after prosecutors sought to obtain the fees paid to Mr. O Neil and Mr. Lewis, the defense sought reconsideration of the judge s original motion, saying the investment performance information would provide context for the fees paid to the brokers.

That request is still pending.

Referring to prosecutors, Mr. Beyer, who represents Mr. O Neil, said: They don t want the jury to hear the whole story.

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich has said he would return $9,000 in political contributions he has received from Mr. Lewis and Mr. O Neil. After they were indicted, Mr. Voinovich acknowledged that Mr. O Neil has handled his personal financial portfolio since he left the governor s office in 1999.

A spokesman said the second-term senator considers the brokers his friends.

A 1997 internal probe of the Bureau of Workers Compensation examined the bureau s commissions to Roney & Co. Gasper, who was hired when Mr. Voinovich was governor, was alleged to have had a godfather at Roney.

Gasper told investigators he assumed they were referring to Mr. Lewis, whom he befriended during his previous employment with Borden Inc., a Columbus firm.

That investigation found no wrongdoing.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at: mwilkinson@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.



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