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YOUNGSTOWN Attorney general: MVSD case frustrating



Published: Fri, August 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Republican state auditor candidate said she is struggling to raise money and interest for her campaign against a lesser-known challenger.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- When Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery filed lawsuits against two ex-Mahoning Valley Sanitary District board directors and the water agency's former construction manager four years ago, she never imagined the cases would be unresolved when she left office.

But that is exactly what is going to happen to Montgomery, whose term as attorney general expires Dec. 31.

Not only is there no end in sight for the cases against former directors Edward A. Flask of Poland and Frank D. DeJute of Niles and the Gilbane Building Co. of Rhode Island, but the attorney general's office has been on the receiving end of one major setback after another on the cases.

"The MVSD is one of the most frustrating cases I've had to deal with," Montgomery said Thursday during a meeting with writers from The Vindicator. "In my wildest dreams, I would have never guessed this set of circumstances. I never thought it would be filed and not resolved in my term."

The three separate lawsuits allege the two former directors improperly paid $2.4 million to Gilbane for work that was never done at the water agency.

A federal judge dismissed the Gilbane case, saying the company did nothing illegal. Visiting Judge Richard Markus dismissed the case against DeJute based primarily on the Gilbane decision. Both cases have been appealed by the attorney general.

Flask's case

Flask declared bankruptcy to delay his civil case, but after seeing the successes of Gilbane and DeJute, he withdrew his declaration and his case is also expected to be dismissed by Judge Markus.

Also, Flask pleaded guilty in September 2000 to nine criminal counts that he improperly accepted about $2 million in cash and other benefits from vendors doing work with the MVSD while he served as a director at the water agency.

But Judge Markus surprised many -- including Montgomery -- when he sentenced Flask to only 90 days in the Trumbull County Jail.

"He missed the boat" with the sentence, Montgomery said.

Montgomery said she was tempted to request Judge Markus be removed from the civil cases after that decision, but opted not to.

"We were frustrated by what happened, but if you go to shoot the elephant, you have to kill it," she said. "You have to establish the grounds for recusal. "

If the office fails to get the judge removed from cases, it runs the risk of hurting its chances of winning, Montgomery said. Also, it is unusual to file such a motion and rare that such a request is honored, she said.

"I have to be smart not to grandstand at the expense of the case," she said. "Do you want to be a 10-minute hero or do you want to win the case?"

Candidate for auditor

Montgomery, a Republican, is running for state auditor in the Nov. 5 general election against Democrat Helen Smith.

Montgomery acknowledges she is having trouble raising money and interest in her campaign because Smith is not a well-known opponent.

"It was hard enough to raise money when most people don't know what an attorney general does," she said. "It's tougher for auditor. People look at auditor with a relative unknown as a challenger. People view me as 'she should win. Why should I vote for her?' It's hard to raise money and interest. I'm seeing a dramatic difficulty raising money."

Montgomery's most recent campaign filing report shows she has more than $1.65 million in cash on hand, compared with about $27,000 for Smith.

Montgomery cannot seek re-election to attorney general, a position she has held for eight years, because of the state's term-limit law. She is running for state auditor, a position held for the past eight years by Jim Petro, a Republican, who is seeking the AG's spot in November.

Montgomery had considered running this year for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

skolnick@vindy.com




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