By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Sam Moffie is welcoming a probe by the Ohio Elections Commission on his recent claims that Boardman Township Trustee John C. Cox accepted campaign contributions from organized crime in an earlier bid for Mahoning County commissioner.
Moffie, who's running against Cox for Boardman Township trustee in today's general election, says the probe will vindicate him.
"I will be victorious," Moffie said Monday.
An elections commission panel found probable cause Monday to give closer scrutiny to a complaint filed by Cox claiming that Moffie made "false statements" about Cox's bid for commissioner five years ago.
The panel set the matter for a hearing before the full commission. No date was scheduled, but Commission Executive Director Philip Richter said it would likely be in January or February.
The commission could refer the matter to authorities for prosecution, find good cause not to refer, or issue a letter of reprimand, Richter said.
Making a false statement is a first-degree misdemeanor.
Allegation: According to Cox's complaint, Moffie held a news conference Friday and alleged that Cox "accepted $12,000 from the 'the mob' during my 1996 campaign for county commissioner."
"The statement made by Mr. Moffie is absolutely false," Cox lawyer Donald J. McTigue said. "It's defamatory."
Cox has admitted he filed a campaign finance report in 1996 that incorrectly showed he lent $12,300 to his campaign committee.
Cox then filed an amended report the following year, saying the money came from his son, a medical student at the time.
Still later, Cox acknowledged that the money came from John Ridel, a local businessman appointed in 1990 by the trustees, including Cox, to the township's civil service commission.
Called opinion: Susan J. Kyte, a lawyer for Moffie, told panel members that Moffie prefaced his comments on the loan's origin by saying "I believe," a preface that signals an opinion.
Kyte said that even if the statements are found not to be opinion, they are based on the truth and existing evidence, including tapes by the FBI.
Panel chairman Alphonse Cincione asked Kyte whether she was suggesting that opinions don't have to be somewhat based in fact.
"What if I said, 'I believe [fellow commission member] Mary Sullivan is president of the United States?'" Cincione asked.
Moffie and his lawyer say Moffie's belief is based in fact.
In testimony to the panel, Moffie said records he has shows Cox's name has been mentioned in connection with an ongoing federal probe of corruption in the Mahoning Valley and on federal wiretaps conducted by the FBI.
After the hearing, Moffie's lawyer refused to release copies of Moffie's documents until she has a chance to review them.