Saturday, August 12, 2000

Mayor accused of taking city funds

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — Mayor Joe Hochbein funneled more than $17,418 meant for the city of Norwood since 1996 into private accounts under his sole control, a document made public Friday charges.

Joe Hochbein
        The mayor also is accused of listing a $1,000 contribution from Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner, a Norwood native, on his 1998 financial report to the Hamilton County Board of Elections when no such contribution was made.

        That and other information relating to a 14-count indictment handed down by a Hamilton County grand jury July 16 is outlined in a document filed Friday afternoon in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

        The document — a bill of particulars — was filed by special prosecuting attorney David Parker with Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano.

        It states that on July 13, 1998, the mayor listed as a campaign contribution a check for $1,000 from Mr. Lindner.

        “The statement that Carl Lindner had made the contribution was made to disguise the source of the donation,” and “was made ... under penalty of election falsification,” the document states.

        In 1997, Mr. Lindner had written a $5,000 check to the city of Norwood and another in 1998 for $10,000, intended for city use. The money instead was used to fund the Norwood Car Show, a private function controlled by the mayor.

        On July 13, 1998, the document states, “Hochbein wrote a check from his Norwood Car Show account to the Mayor Hochbein Committee (his political campaign) in the amount of $1,000 and deposited it into his campaign account.” He failed to list the car show donation on his campaign finance report and disguised it as being received from Mr. Lindner, the document said.

        “We have not had an opportunity to review the (court filing) yet,” said Glenn V. Whitaker, Mr. Hochbein's attorney. “It is too early to comment.”

        A call to the mayor's home was not returned.

        The investigation, conducted by Hamilton County Sheriff's Detective Bryan Pitchford, showed Mr. Hochbein allegedly opened two bank accounts — listing himself as mayor and using the city's federal taxpayer identification number — for two private functions. They are the now-defunct Mayor's Classic basketball and tennis tournament and the Norwood Car Show.

        The mayor is alleged to have opened a personal checking account for the basketball and tennis tournament and a business checking account, with himself as the sole signatory, for the car show, the document asserts.

        According to the document, the mayor is alleged to have deposited various checks from Norwood businesses made out to the city of Norwood or intended for city-sponsored events into the accounts for his private functions.

        The mayor also is accused of using city employees for the car show three times — in 1997, 1998 and 1999 — “on city time to set up and take down booths, signs and electric service and perform numerous other tasks” without reimbursing the city. That resulted in more than $5,000 in unreimbursed costs to the city each of those years, it says.

        The checks at issue also include one for $1,000 written in 1996 from Texo Corp. to the Mayor's Classic, city of Norwood, endorsed by the mayor and deposited into the tournament account, as well as another 1997 Texo check for $600 to the Mayor's Classic.

        The court filing said that when the classic was discontinued, the mayor transferred the $718.48 balance in its account to his political campaign fund.

        The bill also states that a $1,200 check in 1997 from the C. W. Zumbiel Box Co., of Norwood, made payable to the car show was intended for city use and not a private function of the mayor's; and a $600 check in 1997 from Time-Warner also was intended for a city function; and that over time “Mr. Hochbein took (other) checks totaling in excess of $5,000 ... from various corporations, which were payable to The city of Norwood, endorsed them and personally deposited them in his car show account rather than into (the city's) general fund.”

        No trial date has been set in the case.

        Also Friday, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Nurre ordered Mr. Whitaker to release public records of the Norwood Classic and Norwood Car Show, along with other specified public documents requested by Norwood Law Director Vicki Garry.


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