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Published: Friday, 9/21/2007

Ex-BWC finance chief pleads guilty for failing to report gifts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation s former chief finance officer this morning pleaded guilty to failing to disclose gifts received from a New York investment firm doing business from the bureau.

James S. McLean, 53 of Dublin, was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution fines, and court costs, for his first-degree misdemeanor conviction of filing a false 2004 financial disclosure statement with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

That mandated annual statement failed to mention a Chicago Cubs game ticket and meals he received from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. valued at just under $600.

Mr. McLean, fired from his job two years ago, could have faced as much as six months in prison.

Mr. McLean said after entering his plea that he believes he was guilty of a mistake and did not intend to break the law.

"I believe it was a technical error on my part," he said.

He said he believed there was an exception to the Ohio Ethics Act for gifts and meals received while on business out of state. He said he never received ethics training while at the bureau.

At one point, Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Anne Taylor turned to the Ethics Commission Director David Freel and said the ethics law is "an extremely complicated statute."

"Please talk to the legislature to make the ethics law more clear," she said.

Mr. Freel noted that Mr. McLean pleased "guilty," not "no contest" to the charge. He said the ethics disclosure law is designed to provide information to the public so that it can decide whether Keefe, Bruyette & Woods indeed deserved to receive 80 to 85 percent of BWC trades in its area of expertise.

Mr. McLean was the 21st person charged in the scandal fallout at the nation s largest state-run insurance fund for injured workers, and his appearance came two years after then Gov. Bob Taft appeared in the same court to enter pleas of no contest on four similar charges.

To date, ongoing pay-to-play investigations revolving around the bureau have ensnared government officials, money managers, and bureau employees on ethics, bribery, corruption, and campaign finance charges.

Even as reforms pushed by Gov. Ted Strickland are still being enacted under a new governing structure and administrator at the bureau, the fallout continues from what began with The Blade s reporting of a $50 million investment in rare-coin funds with Tom Noe.

The former Toledo area coin dealer and influential GOP fund-raiser is currently serving a 27-month federal prison sentence for laundering campaign contributions to President George W. Bush s 2004 re-election campaign and will later face state prison time for theft and other convictions related to the BWC investment.

Soon after the Noe story hit front pages, the bureau revealed it lost $216 million in a risky off-shore hedge fund operated by Pittsburgh-based MDL Capital Management.

Mark D. Lay, MDL s chief executive officer, faces federal fraud and conspiracy charges.

Mr. McLean has cooperated in both the Noe and Lay investigations.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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