Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Opening remarks heard in theft case

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Norwood Mayor Joe Hochbein diverted funds intended for the city to private civic-function accounts he controlled, and wrote improper checks from those accounts to his election campaign, prosecutors alleged Tuesday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

        But defense attorney Glenn V. Whitaker countered that the two-term Republican followed long-established practices for handling money intended for civic functions in Norwood. And, Mr. Whitaker said, Mr. Hochbein diverted money from the private accounts of civic functions to his campaign fund so he could make charitable contributions as he had promised.

        The statements came at the outset of the 49-year-old mayor's trial on 11 counts of theft in office and falsification before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Fred Cartolano.

        The mayor is accused of funneling more than $2,418 meant for the city since 1996 into private accounts under his control. He could spend nearly 20 years in prison if convicted.

        Special Prosecutor David Parker told the jury Mr. Hochbein deposited checks written to the city into private accounts for the now defunct Mayor's Classic basketball and tennis tournament and the annual Norwood Car Show — accounts he controlled.

        “Norwood's treasurer and auditor never saw these checks” though they were made out to the city of Norwood, Mr. Parker said. “There is mishandling of funds.” Mr. Hochbein “is a lawyer and a mayor and should know what he is doing.”

        Mr. Parker said evidence also will show the mayor closed the Mayor's Classic account and deposited the remaining $718 in it into his campaign fund, and also wrote a $1,000 check to his campaign that was part of a larger donation to the car show from Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner.

        Mr. Whitaker told the court Mr. Hochbein had promised Mr. Lindner that any unused money would be donated to charity. He provided the jury with a long list of such donations. Mr. Whitaker said money was moved to the campaign fund because charitable donations are permitted from such funds.

        The city historically has allowed checks made out to the city, but for civic groups' events, to be deposited into those groups' accounts, Mr. Whitaker said.

        Former Norwood Car Show chairman Jerry Owens and committee member Betty Howard testified about concerns they had about the accountability of cash and the lack, or limited detail, of financial reports of show receipts.

        However, Mr. Owens admitted the committee had no direct involvement with the account, and did not know if Mr. Hochbein took money from it. “When we got the (mayor's) financial statement (in 1998) and it was $1,700 in the hole, we could not believe it,” Ms. Howard said. “We had a great year. .. We knew we made money but did not know where it all went.” The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.


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