Workers' comp official probe continues

Investigators have spent more than a year looking into investment practices.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The prosecution of a senior workers' comp official on charges he traded investment opportunities for gifts is just the beginning of authorities' look at the agency's investment practices, top investigators said Tuesday.
Terrence Gasper, former chief financial officer at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, will plead guilty to state and federal charges today, according to his attorney, Terrence Grady.
Prosecutors say Gasper doled out investment opportunities at the agency in exchange for money, college tuition for his son and stays at a Florida condominium.
Gasper is the first official with the giant insurance fund to be charged in a yearlong investigation into the fund's investment practices that shook Ohio's Republican-dominated government and led to a historic no contest plea on ethics charges by Gov. Bob Taft.
Series of charges
The charges against Gasper are just the first in an expected series of charges against others connected with the bureau's investments, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Tuesday. O'Brien is one of several local, state and federal investigators who have spent more than a year looking into the workers' comp bureau's investment practices.
But an attorney for Jim Conrad, the former workers' comp administrator, said Conrad is not a target of investigators and will not be charged.
Conrad was interviewed twice last fall in Columbus by federal investigators probing investment practices at the $15 billion fund, said Brad Barbin, Conrad's attorney.
"We've been specifically told he's not a target," Barbin said. U.S. Attorney Greg White declined comment.
Conrad was forced out of his job in 2005 as reports emerged that up to $13 million of the $50 million investment in rare coins managed by coin dealer Tom Noe could not be accounted for.
Gasper, 59, is due in federal court in Akron in the morning and Franklin County Common Pleas Court in the afternoon. He will admit to receiving $25,000 from Noe as a bribe in return for doling out investment business from the workers' comp bureau to Noe.
Funneled money
Prosecutors allege Noe funneled the money to Gasper through Gasper's girlfriend at the time. Noe, a prominent GOP contributor, pleaded guilty May 31 to illegally funneling about $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.
Noe has pleaded not guilty to state charges of stealing more than $1 million from the coin fund.
David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said Tuesday the charges against Gasper are the beginning of a new phase of investigations into the bureau's investment practices.
Gasper was hired in 1995 at the behest of the late Paul Mifsud, former chief of staff of then Gov. George Voinovich. Conrad had no say in the matter and the two did not get along, Barbin said.
Internal inquiry
Gasper had been at the bureau less than two years when he was questioned in an internal inquiry about possible political favoritism regarding investments. The allegation involved Key Bank Corp., where Mifsud was seeking a job as a lobbyist. Gasper was cleared of wrongdoing in 1997.

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