Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Prosecutor: Ohio governor to be charged with 4 misdemeanors (One Guess Which Party He Belongs To)

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft speaks at the state fair on August 14.

Taft, a second-term Republican and member of a distinguished U.S. political family, would be the first Ohio governor to be charged with a crime. If convicted of the four misdemeanors, he could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail on each count, though time behind bars was considered unlikely.

Taft will be charged later Wednesday, said City Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh, who declined to comment further pending an afternoon news conference.

The governor will respond publicly on Thursday and is not planning to resign, spokesman Mark Rickel said.

Investigators have looked for weeks at Taft's alleged violation of a law requiring officeholders to report gifts worth more than $75 unless the donor is reimbursed. He had announced the problems involving reporting of golf outings in June but said any errors were inadvertent.

The allegations about Taft, 63, grew out of a scandal that began with revelations of problems with an unusual state investment in rare coins.

The investment was handled by coin dealer Tom Noe, a top GOP donor. Noe has acknowledged that up to $13 million is missing from the fund, and Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing as much as $4 million.

Taft released records August 5 that showed he accepted invitations to 21 golf outings since 1999. They included a 2001 outing with Noe.

The records released earlier this month did not indicate who paid for the outings. Taft's golf partners included John Snow, then the head of transportation company CSX Corp. and now the U.S. Treasury secretary; and Tony Alexander, president and chief executive of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.

Some partners have said Taft paid for the golf; others have said they picked up the tab.

In a speech given in May, the governor had stressed the importance of ethical behavior for public employees.

"Public employees can enjoy entertainment, such as golf or dining out, with persons working for a regulated company, or one doing business with the state, only if they fully pay their own way," he said in the speech at Xavier University.

Taft's former chief of staff Brian Hicks pleaded no contest last month to failing to report stays at Noe's million-dollar Florida home. He was found guilty and fined $1,000 after entering the plea.

Taft's great-grandfather was President William Howard Taft -- who later was chief justice -- and both his father and grandfather were U.S. senators from Ohio.

Other Ohio governors have come under investigation, including Republican George Voinovich, investigated for unproven allegations he laundered campaign money, and Democrat Richard Celeste, whose connections to a contributor who owned the failed Home State Savings Bank were examined.


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