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Published: Wednesday, 11/1/2006

Judge upholds investigation fee for 4 conduits

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For the second time in a month, four prominent Republicans who took money from Tom Noe to attend a fund-raiser for President Bush in 2003 have been ordered to pay the investigation costs for violating state ethics laws.

Judge Mark Reddin of Bowling Green yesterday rejected the appeals of Maggie Thurber, Donna Owens, Sally Perz, and Betty Shultz, who asked the judge to reverse his decision that they reimburse the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The ruling upholds an Oct. 2 order that the women each pay $4,125 for their share of the $16,499 cost to investigate them.

Ms. Thurber, a Lucas County commissioner; Ms. Owens, a former Toledo mayor and former director of the Ohio Department of Commerce; Ms. Perz, a former state representative, and Ms. Shultz, a Toledo city councilman, were convicted on one count each of failing to report the gift of the luncheon from Noe on their annual financial-disclosure forms.

They each entered no contest pleas on June 28 in Toledo Municipal Court, were found guilty, and fined $1,000 and court costs, which they each paid in full to the court.

Toledo attorney Barry Savage said his client, Ms. Perz, would appeal the issue on the investigation costs before Friday to the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals.

"Of course, I disagree with the decision," he added.

The women were charged for failing to disclose that the meal portion of the October, 2003 fund-raiser was paid by Noe. State law requires certain public officials to disclose the source of all gifts greater than $75.

Noe was sentenced in September in U.S. District Court in Toledo to 27 months in federal prison for illegally funneling $45,500 to the women and 20 others to attend President Bush's re-election fund-raiser in Columbus.

Mr. Savage and H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh, a lawyer for Ms. Thurber, Ms. Owens, and Ms. Shultz, claimed in the appeals that Judge Reddin didn't have the authority under state law to impose the cost of the investigation on the defendants.

But Judge Reddin, in his one-page ruling, said the costs were not contrary to state law and such a punishment was permitted as part of a sentence on the misdemeanor convictions.

Lynn Grimshaw, a Scioto County attorney who was appointed special prosecutor to handle the cases, argued that the defendants' challenge was based on a state appellate court ruling from outside the Toledo jurisdiction and one not affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

"It was an appropriate decision on the part of the judge. We were not asking for that sanction. We didn't anticipate that sanction or did any of the attorneys [for the defendants] involved. I do believe it was within the court's discretion to impose such a sanction," he said.

Mr. Hollenbaugh said his clients are considering their options, which include appealing to the higher court or complying with the judge's order. "We will be deciding within the next couple weeks," he said.

Judge Reddin extended the deadline for paying the money to Nov. 30.

Mr. Grimshaw said proceeding with the appeals would be within the constitutional rights of the women.

"But probably the different defendants would end up spending as much money appealing the issue as they would by just going ahead and paying. You would think everyone would want this put to bed and be done with," he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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