Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Probe of Butler officials widened

Allegations focus on Democrats, jobs

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has widened his investigation into coerced or improper political contributions in Butler County.

        Mr. Blackwell said that while investigating an alleged attempt to coerce a political contribution for the county's Democratic Party, his office found an instance where an employee allegedly offered to give money in exchange for a job on the county's board of elections.

        Board of Elections member Mark A. Conese, who is accused of strong-arming an employee into giving thousands of dollars to the county's Democratic Party in the original case investigated by the secretary of state, had been scheduled for a hearing today in Columbus to show why he shouldn't be removed from the board. But the hearing has been rescheduled for Feb. 14.

        Meanwhile, in a statement made public late last week, Mr. Blackwell amended his complaint against Mr. Co nese. The amended complaint reveals an allegation that, in another instance, a person donated funds to the Butler County Democratic Party using someone else's name, in return for a job. The new complaint does not accuse Mr. Conese of involvement in that case.

        Mr. Blackwell said the new case involves Philip O. Morrical Jr., a part-time employee of the elections board, who admitted he offered $3,000 to $4,000 in political donations in exchange for being hired.

        Mr. Blackwell said Mr. Morrical admitted to some of the improprieties on Sept. 26. Days later, Mr. Morrical resigned from his board of elections job.

        Mr. Blackwell also made more specific allegations involving Brent Dixon, another part-time special assistant to the Butler elections board.

        Mr. Blackwell alleged that Mr. Conese and Donald A. Daiker, a Democrat and elections board member, told Mr. Dixon “to contribute his net salary from the board (stated as $4,800) to the Democratic Party.”


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