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TRUMBULL COUNTY Solutions considered for campaign finance debacle



Published: Fri, July 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Seminars to teach candidates about campaign finances were suggested.

WARREN -- The Trumbull County Board of Elections sees no point in doing its own probe of two former county commissioners' handling of campaign contributions.

"Is there a need for an additional investigation? No," said board member Craig Bonar, who also is county Republican Party chairman. "We have nothing new to discover."

Victor V. Vigluicci, the county's special prosecutor, this week filed complaints with the Ohio Elections Commission naming ex-commissioners Michael J. O'Brien, now Warren mayor, and Joseph J. Angelo Jr., now a consultant. Both are Democrats.

James Saker, assistant prosecutor and the board's attorney, also advised Thursday against a duplicative investigation.

"My opinion, quite frankly, is you'd be opening up this board to an accusation of abusing its discretion," Saker said.

Bob Bennett, the Ohio Republican Party's chairman, wants a full investigation and public audit of O'Brien's handling of campaign funds.

The allegations are misdemeanors if proved. If a violation is determined by the elections commission, there can be fines or the matter can be referred for criminal prosecution.

Bonar noted that the complaints against O'Brien and Angelo followed a long investigation into county buying practices that involved the offices of two state Republicans -- Attorney General James Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery.

Fixing the problem

Discussion of the complaints came up during the elections board meeting as Bonar was thinking about hosting informational sessions to review campaign finance laws with elected officials and candidates. Such classes, held in 2001, "apparently didn't do much good," he noted.

The Ohio secretary of state offers statewide classes every two years, recently having one in Akron. From May through July, eight such campaign finance seminars have been held throughout the state.

Myke Clarett, the secretary of state's regional representative, told board members, his office is willing to a Mahoning or Trumbull seminar if requested.

Elections board chairman Nick Melfi said he would rather wait until there is a ruling by the elections commission on O'Brien and Angelo, which could come this fall.

"If they want any information from us, then we will provide it, naturally," Melfi said.

Kelly Pallante, elections director, said the board's staff regularly reviews campaigning rules with individual candidates.

Angelo has stressed that he'd always worked with county board of elections staff in filing his annual reports, and he is unaware of any missing funds.

The accusations

Vigluicci's complaints state that O'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.

O'Brien 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.

Angelo, from 1999 to 2002, had contributions of $25 or less that "significantly exceeded amounts traceable to the campaign bank account," the complaint says. 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," the complaint says.

Also, three checks totaling $4,100 were written from Angelo's campaign bank account to him or his wife as loans.




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