The complaints are misdemeanors that could lead to fines or prosecution.
WARREN -- A special prosecutor says two former Trumbull County commissioners' handling of campaign contributions, seemingly for personal use, violated Ohio elections law.
Michael J. O'Brien of Edgewood Street is now Warren's mayor, and Joseph J. Angelo Jr. of Mary Drive is working as a consultant.
"I'm rather shocked," Angelo said Monday. "I know I've done nothing criminal."
O'Brien said, "It was brought to my attention by the authorities, and I was surprised."
Victor V. Vigluicci, the special prosecutor, says in two complaints filed with the Ohio Elections Commission that:
UO'Brien, from 2000 to 2003, received $2,035 in campaign contributions that were deposited into the joint personal checking account with his wife, Louise, or the personal savings of son Dominic and Louise O'Brien. There's no evidence the money ever was transferred into the campaign account; converting campaign funds for personal use is prohibited by Ohio Revised Code.
O'Brien said this is the first time in 25 years of politics that such an error was noted in his report. He said he deposited $1,500 from his personal account to the committee's account, when the matter was brought to his attention in 2004. Any other required reimbursement to the committee will be remedied after he reviews the complaint's numbers, the mayor said.
UAngelo, from 1999 to 2002, had contributions of $25 or less that "significantly exceeded amounts traceable to the campaign bank account." The total amount of contributions received but not deposited per records is $7,805. "Further, there is no indication from available records that the money was used as legitimate and verifiable campaign expenses."
"I have no idea where he's at with that," Angelo said of the $7,805, saying he will have to review the complaint.
U Three checks totaling $4,100 were written from Angelo's campaign bank account to him or his wife as "loans." One for $1,000 was payable to Angelo's wife, Toni, and two checks totaling $3,100 were made payable to Commissioner Angelo.
It's unclear if the checks were intended to be repayments on personal loans, or if they represented a loan from the campaign fund to the Angelos. The signature appears to be Angelo's and the word "loan" is on the memo line. It "seems likely that Mr. Angelo was loaning himself and his wife money ... ," the complaint states. This is not permitted by the Ohio Revised Code.
Handling the complaints
Phillip Richter, state elections commission executive director, said the allegations are misdemeanors if proved. The commission could take the complaints up this fall; if a violation is determined, they can issue fines or refer the matter to Vigluicci for criminal prosecution.
Vigluicci's complaint says a state auditor analyzed deposit information from Angelo's campaign bank account, determining that amounts listed on campaign finance reports as "'$25 or less for checks and cash' significantly exceeded amounts traceable to the bank account."
This included $595 not listed on campaign finance reports but identified as contributions deposited into the campaign account. Also, no cash deposits for contributions were made for the years 2000 through 2002, the complaint says.
"Every expense I wrote down I'm sure was a legitimate expense," Angelo said.
He stressed that he'd always worked with Trumbull County Board of Elections staff in filing his annual reports, and is "unaware of any missing funds."
"I would never take money out of my campaign fund if not warranted," Angelo added.
Vigluicci, from Portage County, was appointed by Trumbull Prosecutor Dennis Watkins. Matters in the complaints were found during a multiyear criminal investigation by the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Identification and the Ohio Auditor of State.
They follow grand jury testimony related to a scam that had county government paying too much for supplies, with vendors kicking back dollars to campaign coffers and gifts.
No past or present county elected officials are under indictment, and the contributions noted in Vigluicci's complaint against O'Brien do not name vendors who have been charged in the purchasing probe.
In the O'Brien complaint, Louise O'Brien was campaign treasurer for about seven years, the complaint states. Law requires a campaign account separate from a personal or business account of the candidate or member of his committee.
O'Brien noted he has his three children's accounts, his personal account and the campaign account at the same bank. "It appears that errors were made by my committee, but I'm the candidate and the candidate is responsible for the [campaign finance] report," he said.
Along with the $2,035 from 11 named contributors, "there were several other checks deposited into the personal banking account of Michael and Louise O'Brien that appeared to be campaign contributions; however, those individuals were not interviewed" by BCI agents.
Six of the 11 contributors' checks "never appeared on campaign finance reports as contributions," and none of the required information was submitted to the county elections board, the complaint notes.
Vigluicci notes a $500 check in April 2003 from Joseph DiVieste. The document says $100 was deposited to the account and $400 was withdrawn in cash. With a $130 check from John S. Krafcik in September 2003, $30 was deposited and $100 withdrawn in cash.
Also, on two occasions, cash contributions were received but never deposited into the campaign fund, the complaint states. This involves $603 from a March 2003 fundraising event. Also, of $1,710 collected at an October 2003 event, "there was only a cash deposit totaling $1,000," the complaint states.