Thursday, November 30, 2000

Contributors testify about Norwood gifts

Money meant for civic benefit, charity purposes

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Representatives of companies that wrote checks to the Mayor's Classic basketball and tennis tournament and Norwood Car Show told a jury Wednesday their donations were not intended as political contributions.

        The testimony came during the third day in the trial of Norwood Mayor Joe Hochbein on 11 counts of theft in office and falsification. One of the falsification counts alleges he listed a false election campaign contribution from Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner.

        The 49-year-old mayor is accused of funneling more than $2,418 meant for the city since 1996 into private accounts under his control and transferring some of the money into his re-election campaign fund. He could spend nearly 20 years in prison if convicted.

        When questioned by attorneys for the two-term Republican mayor, the company representatives said they had no specific knowledge of how their contributions were spent, and did not object to any expenditure so long as it benefited the civic functions. They also did not object to any surplus funds being donated to charities.

        Both the Mayor's Classic and the car show were financially overseen by the mayor, who had sole control of the event accounts. Mr. Hochbein's attorneys have argued that the mayor diverted money from the private accounts of civic functions to his campaign fund so he could make charitable contributions as he had promised.

        Joseph Pedoto, president and chief operating officer of JLM Financial consulting, is involved in issuing some checks and overseeing certain financial affairs for Mr. Lindner. He testified his company issued checks to the city of Norwood intended for car show use.

        Such donations can qualify for a tax writeoff.

        “The Norwood Car Show does not qualify” for tax exemption status, Mr. Pedoto said. Necessary documents were not completed and filed to provide that status. The city of “Norwood does qualify (as tax exempt),” Mr. Pedoto said. “We wrote (the checks) to the city for that reason.”

        The prosecution alleges the mayor closed the Mayor's Classic account in 1996 and deposited the remaining $718 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 Mr. Lindner.

        Checks of $5,000 and $10,000 from Mr. Lindner are among those at issue.

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