Tuesday, December 05, 2000

Mayor testifies funds going to charity

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Norwood Mayor Joe Hochbein told a jury Monday he did not intend to funnel funds from civic event accounts to his campaign fund for his own political benefit.

        The mayor, 49, took the stand in his own defense on a felony charge of election falsification in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

        As to two misdemeanor counts of falsification involving unauthorized use of the city's tax-exempt identification number on bank accounts, the mayor said he did not recall the identification number being on bank cards when he signed them.

        If convicted, Mr. Hochbein faces a maximum of two years in jail for the felony charge and a total fine of $4,500 to $17,500 on the remaining charges.

Mayor's testimony
               The two-term Republican mayor told the jury he moved $1,718.48 from the accounts to the Hochbein Campaign Fund as a means to make charitable donations.

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

        Mr. Hochbein testified he moved the $718.48 and claimed the donation as being from himself because he had no way of identifying the many donors to the classic.

The other $1,000
               Also, Mr. Hochbein's campaign finance report notes a contribution of $1,000 from financier Carl Lindner, who approved donation checks of $5,000 and $10,000 to the car show. 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.

        Mr. Lindner said he intended for both checks to go to the car show and had no objection if any excess money went to charity.

        The mayor admitted he mingled donations without keeping separate records for donors.

        The mayor also admitted he could have made contributions out of the event funds without transferring them to his campaign fund.

        Last week, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano dismissed eight other counts against Mr. Hochbein — six counts of theft in office and two falsification charges. The judge ruled there was no evidence introduced that the mayor intended to steal money.

        The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today. The jury is expected to begin deliberations this afternoon.


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