Tuesday, November 23, 1999
Auditor wants ethics probe
Workers' gifts to Holcomb are target
BY JANICE MORSE
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In a letter asking for an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation, Ohio Auditor James Petro says he believes Butler County Prosecutor John F. Holcomb, his staff or campaign committee may have violated state ethics laws while obtaining campaign contributions from the prosecutor's employees.
I believe it is possible that (ethics laws) were violated by Prosecutor Holcomb or members of his staff or his campaign committee, or some combination thereof, Mr. Petro wrote in a Nov. 18 letter addressed to David E. Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Mr. Freel, however, said he cannot comment on requests for investigations because by law his agency conducts probes in secret, much like a grand jury does.
Mr. Holcomb declined to comment.
In his letter, Mr. Petro cited articles that began appearing in The Cincinnati Enquir er on Oct. 24, revealing that Mr. Holcomb had amassed a $155,000 campaign fund, mostly from his own employees giving about 2 percent of their salaries. Some ex-employees said they felt pressured to give, while some current employees said they gave willingly.
Mr. Petro also forwarded to Mr. Freel a copy of an ex-employee's document, which appears to be a bill from the Prosecutor John Holcomb Committee. The document clearly shows that a contribution of 2 percent of what appears to be the employee's annual salary is "due,' Mr. Petro said.
The individual who was solicited brought it to our office, said Butler County Auditor Kay Rogers, who provided it to Mr. Petro. Ms. Rogers said the ex-employee asked not to be named.
Ms. Rogers had asked Mr. Petro to perform a special audit of the fund-raising activities involving Mr. Holcomb's employees. But Mr. Petro said he has authority over public funds only and that money from Mr. Holcomb's employees' bank accounts or in pos session of his campaign committee doesn't qualify.
Mr. Petro noted that Ohio ethics law prohibits public officeholders from using their position to obtain anything of value that they otherwise wouldn't get and he said the campaign contributions in Mr. Holcomb's case could fit that definition.
If the Ohio Ethics Commission were to launch an investigation, the agency has the power to subpoena records and may compel testimony from reluctant witnesses but it's all confidential, Mr. Freel said.
After an ethics investigation is concluded, the findings may become public under any of the following conditions, Mr. Freel explained:
If a prosecutor or special prosecutor pursues criminal charges based upon the investigation.
If the commission disagrees with the prosecutor's decision to ignore criminal charges.
If the subject of the investigation contests the allegations and asks the commission's findings to be publicized.
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