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Taft to be in court today to answer criminal charges



Published: Thu, August 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The governor could get up to two years in jail if convicted of all four counts.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft will go into the history books as the first sitting Ohio governor charged with a crime.

He is scheduled to be in Franklin County Municipal Court today to answer misdemeanor charges that he failed to report several gifts on financial disclosure statements as required by state law.

Taft, a Republican in the last two years of his second and final four-year term, faces four counts of filing false financial disclosure statements with the state for years 2001 through 2004, according to criminal complaints filed Wednesday.

The complaints allege several instances of Taft's receiving several golf rounds and other gifts in excess of $75 and not reporting them on state financial disclosure forms for those years.

Taft could be fined a maximum of $1,000 and six months in jail on each count if convicted, though time behind bars was considered unlikely, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the total value of the previously undisclosed gifts received by Taft is about $6,000.

Taft, 63, couldn't be reached to comment.

Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the governor plans to address the public today.

Rickel said that Taft will not resign from office.

"The governor will finish his term," Rickel said.

Charge specifics

The charges stem largely from information supplied by Taft himself, according to prosecutors.

In June, the governor revealed that he failed to list several golf outings or events on his state financial-disclosure forms over the last several years. Taft has said he reported the information to the Ohio Ethics Commission and that he was working with the commission on full disclosure.

Prosecutors said the ethics commission forwarded its report on the case to them, which led to the charges against the governor.

"We looked at the facts," Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said.

O'Brien, a Republican who is working with others including Columbus City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer, a Democrat, on the case, said Taft has been cooperative.

Reaction to the news that the governor had been charged criminally came swiftly.

Ohio's reactions

In a prepared statement, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett characterized the items Taft reportedly failed to disclose as "reporting errors, plain and simple."

"Governor Taft discovered these omissions on his own and took the initiative to correct them," Bennett's statement said.

"It's a real tragic day for the state of Ohio," said state Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown-area Democrat who has become a leading critic of the investment controversies that have dogged the BWC, the state's insurance fund for injured workers.

Dann said Taft should "help us get to the bottom of this culture of corruption that we deal with every day here in Columbus."

Democratic state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown said: "As Ohio's former Secretary of State, Taft should have known better. His behavior is a blatant disregard for the ethics laws that were created when Governor Taft was secretary of state. ... Today is a sad day in Ohio's history."

Basic background

Taft is the great-grandson of President William Howard Taft and grandson of Robert A. Taft, who was known as "Mr. Republican" during the 1950s.

He is the first sitting Ohio governor who's been charged with a legal violation, said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

In a speech in May, the governor 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.

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.

Three former directors under Taft have resigned following accusations they were treated to golf outings by companies that did business with their agencies. A May 2001 Ohio Ethics Commission memo specified that golf rounds should be reported as gifts.

XThe Associated Press contributed to this report.




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