"By no means do I believe that these cases are over yet. We are continuing to pursue them." With that, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro served notice Monday that the state's push to recover $2.4 million belonging to the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District will not be derailed by a recent ruling of the 11th District Court of Appeals in a case involving former director Frank DeJute.
Indeed, Petro, who was sworn in as attorney general in January after serving eight years as state auditor, said his office will appeal the 11th District court's ruling to keep the case alive. Doing so will buy time for his office to review the MVSD file that was developed during the tenure of Petro's predecessor, Betty Montgomery. Montgomery is now the state's auditor.
The attorney general's firm commitment to doing whatever he can to recover the $2.4 million is music to our ears. It is no secret that we have been unwavering in our support of legal action against DeJute of Niles and another former MVSD director, Edward A. Flask of Poland, and others who improperly benefited from a $50 million capital improvement project at the district's water purification plant in Mineral Ridge. A special audit of the MVSD launched by Petro when he was state auditor resulted in findings of recovery of more than $2 million from Flask and DeJute.
Attorney General Montgomery filed lawsuits against the two former directors and the Gilbane Co. of Rhode Island, but her office suffered setbacks in court.
But now it's a new ballgame. The man who is the state's top lawyer is the man who blew the lid off the MVSD. Jim Petro is not on a fool's errand. Rather, he is a true public servant with a clear understanding of his responsibilities. There was nothing personal about his dogged determination to find out what was going on in the water district and there is nothing personal about his commitment to keeping the lawsuits alive.
As we have said in the past, even though the state has lost some battles, we remain confident that in the end the merits of the case will be recognized by some court. Indeed, we still look askance at the ruling of federal Judge George C. Smith, who found that while Gilbane did not actually earn all the money it was paid for serving as construction project manager, it could not be held liable for what it received. The problem, the judge said, was in the wording of the contract.
Former Attorney General Montgomery appealed that ruling to the 6th U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, where it now sits.
Although DeJute sees the 11th District court's ruling last week as clear vindication, Petro has a different view of what took place at the MVSD during the capital improvements project. He has long contended that DeJute and Flask improperly paid Gilbane for construction work not performed and, therefore, the former directors and the Rhode Island company must be held liable.
For Petro, this case is about the good stewardship of public dollars. Individuals in public positions must be responsible for the way such money is spent -- especially when the amount is $2.4 million.