Friday, December 01, 2000

Judge tosses most counts mayor faced

Hochbein still could get time behind bars, fines

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Norwood Mayor Joe Hochbein, who began Thursday facing 11 counts of theft in office and falsification, left the Hamilton County Courthouse smiling after all six theft counts against him, and two falsification charges, were dismissed.

        The mayor, who could have served almost 19 years in prison if convicted of all counts, now faces a maximum of two years on the single remaining felony count of election falsification and two misdemeanor counts of falsification involving unauthorized use of the city's tax-exempt identification number on bank accounts.

        In dismissing the eight counts, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano told Special Prosecutor David Parker there was no evidence introduced that the mayor intended to steal money from the city.

        The charges accused the 49-year-old mayor of funneling more than $2,418 meant for the city since 1996 into private accounts for two events that were under his control, and transferring some of the money into his re-election campaign fund.

        In their testimony, representatives of companies that had donated checks “indicated emphatically, without any doubt whatsoever, no matter how the check was written ... (these were) a donation either to the Mayor's Classic ... or ... the Norwood Car Show,” the judge said. “They were not donating to (the city of) Norwood.

        “I can't see how Mayor Hochbein could steal anything from the city ... because Norwood (officials), by their own admission, had no interest in this money. They did not even know about the money,” the judge said.

        Norwood City Treasurer Tim Molony and Auditor Donnie Jones told the jury they were unaware of the donation checks until the investigation by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. “They were not entitled to these checks, (and) they claimed no ownership of these checks. They (said they) have no rights or interest to these checks,” Judge Cartolano said.

        However, the judge let stand the election falsification count.

        Charles A. Eckert III, a campaign finance officer for the Hamilton County Board of Elections, identified Mr. Hochbein's campaign finance report for his 1998 mayoral race, which contained contributions of $718.48 from himself and $1,000 from Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner.

        Prosecutors allege the mayor closed the bank account for the then-defunct Mayor's Classic in July 1998 and deposited that money in his campaign account. Bank records introduced in court show the Classic account contained $718.48.

        Also, Mr. Hochbein's campaign finance report notes a contribution of $1,000 from Mr. Lindner, who approved donation checks of $5,000 and $10,000 to the car show, testimony established. The mayor is accused of taking $1,000 from the car show account, depositing it in his campaign fund and reporting that it came from Mr. Lindner, when that was not Mr. Lindner's intent.

        Records introduced in court show Mr. Hochbein wrote a $1,000 check from the car show account to his campaign that is not reported on the finance report to the election board.

        The mayor also faces a total fine of between $4,500 and $17,500 on the remaining charges. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.


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