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Ohio Watchdog: Dem. AG Ran Corrupt Office

Monday, 22 Dec 2008 07:02 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Former Attorney General Marc Dann ran a vulgar and unprofessional office and misused campaign funds to make lavish payments to friends and family, the state's government watchdog said Monday in releasing the results of a six-month investigation.

Dann, a Democrat elected in 2006 on an anti-corruption platform, resigned in May amid a sexual harassment scandal in his office that included his admission that he had an affair with an employee.

The report by Inspector General Tom Charles said Dann hired a coterie of young women dubbed "the Dannettes" who were so unqualified and unprofessional in their dress and conduct that an office assistant was assigned to conduct etiquette training.

Dann used his position to indulge himself and gave well-paid top jobs to aides whose only qualification was their loyalty and friendship to their boss, the report said.

Charles said he was forwarding the report to Columbus and Franklin County prosecutors, the Internal Revenue Service and the Ohio Department of Taxation, among other entities.

Anthony Gutierrez, an aide at the center of the sexual harassment scandal who was later fired, could face felony ethics charges, Charles said. Dann, who Charles said declined to be interviewed for the investigation, could face sanctions from the Ohio Elections Commission regarding the way he spent campaign funds and public money.

Dann said in a conference call with reporters that Charles' report was littered with innuendo instead of facts and didn't document any substantive cases in which he had broken the law.

He also said the report was written with a bias that had grown from Dann's prior criticism of Charles. "He has never forgiven me for that," Dann said.

Among other findings in the report, Charles said Dann:

_Ballooned the size of the office's fleet of cars by buying 99 additional vehicles at a cost of $1.9 million and doling out some of the cars as perks to senior managers.

_Used state-owned airplanes 16 times, including ordering pilots to pick him up at his Youngstown home or drop him off at a cost to taxpayers of $8,175.

"There was either a general lack of understanding or a blatant disregard for the law and for how you run a public office," said state Auditor Mary Taylor, a Republican who released her own report Monday on Dann's use of state funds and resources.

The inspector general's report also said Dann used his campaign fund to buy food, beverages, snacks, newspapers and other items virtually every day he was in office, racking up $31,474 in expenses.

Soon after his election, Dann also set up a unique "transition account" to benefit himself and his associates, and to get around the campaign finance laws that govern typical campaign accounts, the report concluded. The account grew to include more than $195,000 in donations from businesses and individuals, including political action committees.

The only transition account addressed by Ohio election law is for the governor, the report noted, saying Dann was charting new territory.

All but $8,000 from that account has been spent, including about $12,000 that was spent on Dann's wife's business, Zesty Dishes. Thousands of dollars were also paid to Gutierrez and to Leo Jennings, who served as Dann's communications director before being fired in the fallout of the harassment scandal, the report said.

Jennings and Gutierrez were receiving their state salaries at the same time.

Dann said other statewide office holders had similar transition accounts. Taylor acknowledged having one Monday but said it was spent solely on expenses related to the January 2007 inauguration.

The report said Gutierrez also had a history of drunken driving charges. Vehicles assigned to Gutierrez were damaged on four occasions, and Gutierrez failed to file crash reports each time, the investigation found. Gutierrez spoke with investigators about other individuals in the office, but would not talk about allegations against himself.

State Treasurer Richard Cordray, a Democrat who won election in November, takes over the attorney general's office in January.

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