COLUMBUS - Federal prosecutors yesterday charged investment marketer-salesman Clarke T. Blizzard with conspiring to bribe a high-ranking official of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation in exchange for the agency placing hundreds of millions of dollars with his clients.
Mr. Blizzard, a 53-year-old Florida resident, gave $23,405 to former bureau chief financial officer Terry Gasper, including $9,005 in 2004 for college tuition for Gasper's son and $2,300 in 2002 to Gasper's then-girlfriend, Betsy Ratcliff, federal authorities said.
In return, Gasper steered investment money to Mr. Blizzard's clients, resulting in more than $2.5 million in fees and commissions for the firms he marketed, according to a bill of information filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.
"The public must be strongly protected against those who prey on public servants motivated by personal gain," said Greg White, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Authorities said yesterday they have reached plea agree-ments with Mr. Blizzard. If convicted on the federal bribery charge, he would face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Mr. Blizzard is the 15th person to be charged in the state and federal corruption probe that began after The Blade first reported in April, 2005, about problems with the bureau's $50 million rare-coin investment with Tom Noe, a GOP insider and key appointee of Ohio Govs. George Voinovich and Bob Taft. The investigation has resulted in numerous criminal charges, including the felony convictions of Noe and Gasper, as well as the misdemeanor convictions of Mr. Taft and four of his former aides on ethics violations.
"We anticipate Mr. Blizzard will be cooperating and the investigation will continue," Mr. White said. "We anticipate others will be charged."
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's spokesman, Keith Dailey, said yesterday: "The governor believes that in order to restore trust and integrity to the bureau, corruption must be investigated and those who engaged in criminal behavior must be brought to justice."
David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, added: "This is very serious alleged misconduct."
Mr. Blizzard's attorney did not return a message seeking comment.
The charges against Mr. Blizzard stem from Gasper's guilty plea in June, 2006, in federal and state courts to massive corruption charges. Gasper is cooperating with investigators.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he anticipates within the next week that he will file a money-laundering charge against Mr. Blizzard. It is a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Mr. O'Brien said he expected Mr. Blizzard's cooperation will "further the investigation" into the bureau's investment practices.
In 1998, Mr. Blizzard helped convince the bureau to place $550 million in two hedge funds with American Express Asset Management, a company he marketed. In June, 2005, amid the scandal, the bureau announced plans to liquidate the investments, which the agency said had lost $4.8 million.
Mr. O'Brien said Mr. Blizzard is also expected to provide information about other agencies that he worked with in Ohio, including the Police and Fire Pension Fund, Mr. O'Brien said.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Blizzard found his niche as a star salesman for Shawmut Investment Advisors. He was credited with bringing more than $1 billion under Shawmut's management - including $112.5 million from Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund.
The Blade reported last year that Mr. Blizzard was fired in 1996 amid his firm's internal investigation into improper brokerage commissions. His former employer eventually agreed to pay $1.9 million in fines to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stemming from that investigation. In 2003, Mr. Blizzard was ordered to pay $650,000 in fines, but the ruling was overturned on appeal.
Mr. Blizzard later worked for Northwinds Marketing Group, selling investment products for American Express Asset Management. In 2005, Northwinds paid about $104,000 and American Express paid nearly $60,000 in fines after their representatives allegedly showered trustees of the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund with gifts. At least two fund trustees have been convicted on ethics charges stemming from the scandal.
Joe Walter, a retired Toledo firefighter who served as chairman of the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund in the mid-1990s, was at the table for Mr. Blizzard's sales pitch on behalf of Shawmut Investment Advisors. Mr. Walter, who voted against selecting Shawmut, said yesterday he wasn't surprised by the charges filed against Mr. Blizzard.
Mr. Walter, Toledo's former safety director, recalled Mr. Blizzard as a good salesman, but said his style made him feel "uneasy."
"There were people who came in and were very technical...," Mr. Walter said, reflecting on the various presentations the board would hear from investment marketers. "Clarke was the good guy. He was the glad-hander."
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