Sunday, April 08, 2001

Mayor asks for donation

Legal defense fund says case cost $146K

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — Mayor Joe Hochbein took a page out of Bill Clinton's playbook by soliciting money for a legal defense fund to help pay $146,000 in legal bills from his criminal trial last year.

        People receiving a fund-raising letter from the “Joseph J. Hochbein Legal Defense Fund,” signed by his ex-wife Susan Hochbein, were told the donors' names would not be disclosed, but that may not be the case.

        Elected officials must list the donors of $75 or more on the personal financial disclosure forms they are required to file with the Ohio Ethics Commission each year.

        “Whatever the law requires me to disclose, I will disclose,” the Republican mayor said.

        All Ohio elected officials must have their 2000 personal financial disclosure forms in the Ohio Ethics Commission office in Columbus by April 15.

        The law says that the donor of any gift of $75 or more “received by the person in his own name or by any other person for his use or benefit” must be reported. There is no requirement that the amount of the gift be listed.

        Some of Mr. Hochbein's Democratic opponents in Norwood are saying they will be watching to see whether he lists gifts to his legal defense.

        “It's clear to me that you have to report the names of people who give you gifts,” said city Treasurer Tim Molony, who is also chairman of the Norwood Democratic Party. “We have to report this stuff, so we don't have elected officials doing things like setting up the Tim Mo lony children's college fund.”

        Mr. Hochbein said the amount raised by his legal defense fund “doesn't amount to a whole lot,” but that he does not know the exact amount. His ex-wife and Gary A. Miller, a Michigan lawyer who is a longtime friend of the Norwood mayor, are the escrow agents for the legal defense fund account at Bank One.

        Mr. Hochbein has legal bills from his December trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on 14 counts of theft in office and falsification.

        Eleven counts were dismissed early in the six-day trial. Judge Fred Cartolano dismissed the three remaining counts after Mr. Hochbein agreed to a plea bargain in which he entered a “no contest” plea.

        The judge found the mayor guilty only of one lesser misdemeanor - unlawful use of the city's taxpayer identification number. He was ordered to pay court costs, about $500.

        In January, a letter went out with Mrs. Hochbein's signature, soliciting contributions.

        Mr. Hochbein said he did not know how many copies of the letter went out and who they went to, except “friends and family.” Mrs. Hochbein did not return phone messages.

        “To date, our legal defense fund has paid $35,300 and Joe has personally paid an even greater sum of money,” Mrs. Hochbein wrote. “Our goal now is to collect an additional $60,000 to finish paying all outstanding fees and costs.”


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