Court records disappear despite ethics convictions

Tom Noe, a former Republican fundraiser convicted of stealing from an Ohio investment fund, poses for a photo at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, Feb. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Shari Lewis)

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Tom Noe, a former Republican fundraiser convicted of stealing from an Ohio investment fund, poses for a photo at the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio, Feb. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Shari Lewis)

Often news reports are all that remain from ethics violations that result in convictions.

Ohio Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe gives a blank stare when asked which of the hard-fought convictions on ethics violations have been expunged from the court record. Ohio Ethics Commission Director Paul Nick also responds with a poker face.

By law, they aren’t allowed to say. It is as though the convictions never happened.

But that doesn’t mean they agree with vanquishing the court records.

“There is a strong public interest in maintaining public records of convictions of public officials,” said Nick, “especially if it involves misuse of public funds.”

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The Ohio Ethics Commission is prohibited by law from disclosing its investigative reports. The only way they become a matter of public record is if a local prosecutor releases the report, the issue captures media attention or one of the parties involve speaks publicly about it.

Nick said news stories are often all that is left to document a crime once the court record is wiped clean. “Their story is out there in the media,” he said. “An expungement removes the record, but the story is still there.”

While a large majority of Ohio Ethics Commission investigations — 96 percent last year — focus on local government cases, ethics cases involving state officials and lawmakers tend to receive more media attention and documentation.

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Here is a quick run-down on cases that appear to be removed from the court record in Franklin County, where ethics cases are usually prosecuted:

Bengals tickets unreported: The Franklin County Municipal Court's online records system no longer lists the ethics cases involving lobbyists John Rabenold and George Glover or former state representative Dale Mallory, D-Cincinnati. In 2014, Glover pleaded guilty to two fourth-degree misdemeanors and paid a $500 fine for failing to disclose giving Mallory a Bengals football game ticket, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Rabenold was fined for failing to disclose gifts to lawmakers, including another Bengals ticket given to Mallory. In late 2014, Mallory admitted in court to failing to report the tickets as gifts from lobbyists.

The Marc Dann scandal: Democrat Marc Dann resigned as Ohio attorney general in May 2008 after a series of scandals and management missteps. Among the problems in his administration: his then-wife Alyssa Lenhoff was a driving force behind the scenes to line up a $6,500 grant from Dann's office and begin teaching a college course on investigating unsolved criminal cases. Lenhoff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge in a plea agreement struck with Lenhoff, the Ethics Commission and the Franklin County prosecutor. Her conviction no longer appears in the court records. Lenhoff and Dann have since divorced. Dann's guilty plea for soliciting or receiving improper compensation is still on the court record.

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BWC investment scandal: In 2005, a full-blown scandal erupted in the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. All told, more than 18 people were convicted of misdemeanors and or felonies. James McLean, who led BWC investments from 2003 to 2005, pleaded guilty in 2007 to failing to properly report gifts. His case no longer appears in the online court files. Likewise, Taft administration executive assistant Cherie Carroll's case no longer appears in the record. In 2005, Carroll pleaded no contest to charges that she accepted free meals from BWC investment advisor Tom Noe.

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Campaign giving in state treasurer's office: In 2004, Matthew Borges, former chief of staff for then-state treasurer Joe Deters, pleaded guilty to giving preferential treatment to some investment brokers. Eric Sagun, Deters' fund-raiser, was convicted of an election law violation. Lobbyist Andrew Futey pleaded guilty, was fined and put on probation for failing to register as a lobbyist. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Borges was granted an expungement. He went on to serve as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party until January 2017.

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