Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Arson device found in law office

Target is figure in Villa Hills furor

By Patrick Crowley and Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The law office of an attorney heavily involved in Villa Hills politics has been the target of an apparent arson attempt.

        Covington police and federal agents are investigating an explosive device found Tuesday morning at the Garrard Street office of Steve Schletker, an attorney and cable access television producer who has been active in the controversy surrounding the resignation of former Mayor Steve Clark.

[photo] Covington Officer Dean Abner talks with attorney Steve Schletker outside Mr. Schletker's office.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Investigators from the Covington Fire Department reported that had the water heater been turned on and its pilot light lit, the building would have exploded, said Lt. Col. Jim Liles of the Covington Police Department.

        The incident is the latest — and by far the most dangerous — in a pattern of harassment and vandalism that people involved on both sides of the long-running controversy have experienced.

        Since last March, Villa Hills police have received eight complaints of harassment or vandalism from the former mayor, his critics and supporters.

        The complaints have included derogatory letters mailed or slipped under the doors of residents who spoke at City Council meetings, a threatening phone call, paint ball damage to a resident's garage, and a personal threat allegedly made to a relative of the former city clerk during a recess in a council meeting.

        Some of the letters were produced using letters cut out of magazines.

        Also, lawyer Jeff Harmon, who represented a group of people investigating expenditures by a past Villa Hills administration had decorations in his front yard burned last Halloween by vandals. Mr. Harmon questioned the timing of the incident, which came less than two weeks after he questioned a past administration's spending for Christmas party alcohol and at Hooters and other restaurants.

        Over the weekend, the cleaning staff of Mr. Schletker's office noticed a smell that was originally thought to be rotting food or a dead animal that had somehow gotten into the office.

        Mr. Schletker arrived at the office Sunday and was unable to determine the cause of the odor. A crew from Cinergy came to the office Monday and was also unable to determine the cause.

        But on Tuesday, Mr. Schletker discovered a propane device that Covington police said could have caused an explosion in the building.

        “The investigators told me it's a miracle the place did not blow up,” Mr. Schletker said.

        Covington police and the Cincinnati office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating but there are no suspects, officials from both agencies said Tuesday.

        Mr. Schletker has been a vocal and frequent critic of Mr. Clark, who resigned last week amid a flurry of allegations and the threat of lawsuits by two employees the mayor had fired.

        He has also used his television show, Northern Kentucky Live, to criticize the mayor.

        Mr. Schletker said he is accusing no one of rigging the device. He said he does not believe he has enemies encountered through his legal practice, which focuses on maritime law.

        “The timing is curious,” he said. “I don't do any criminal work, domestic violence, divorces, anything like that. I don't know what to make of it. But it's scary.”

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