Jennings suspended with pay

By David Skolnick

The suspension is related to a sexual harassment investigation.

YOUNGSTOWN — Leo Jennings III, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann’s communications director and longtime friend, has become the second high-level official in the office to be suspended with pay related to the investigation into the sexual harassment complaints of two female employees.

The office released a short statement Monday about Jennings’ administrative leave stating: “This action comes as a result of new information received over the weekend.”

No information about the sexual harassment complaints will be released until the investigation is concluded, said Ted Hart, deputy communications director.

The information was given to someone at the attorney general’s office and passed along to Ben Espy, Hart said.

Espy is Dann’s executive assistant attorney general and the senior attorney investigating sexual harassment complaints filed against Anthony S. Gutierrez.

Jennings, 52, of Poland, makes about $102,000 annually as communications director.

Dann, a Liberty Democrat, placed Gutierrez, his director of general services, on paid administrative leave April 7, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Gutierrez, 50, makes $87,500 annually.

Jennings couldn’t be reached Monday to comment.

This is not Jennings’ first public rebuke in his role in Dann’s office.

Last September, a letter of reprimand was placed in Jennings’ attorney general file for improper language he used in an e-mail to another employee.

Jennings served as Dann’s campaign and communications director during the latter’s 2006 victory over Republican Betty Montgomery for attorney general. In March 2007, two months after Dann became attorney general, Jennings was hired as communications director of the attorney general’s office.

Jennings’ political consulting firm, Progressive Solutions Group, still worked as Dann’s campaign consultant at least as of Dec. 31. Dann’s campaign paid $26,871 to Jennings’ company last year for consulting work, according to the attorney general’s 2007 annual campaign finance report.

Between the mid-1990s until about 2002, Jennings was among the most-used political consultants by Mahoning Valley Democrats.

Though Jennings wrote on his attorney general’s office job application that he made between $70,000 and $100,000 annually after 2001, he did little consulting work for Valley politicians besides Dann.

The Valley work decreased around the time The Vindicator published a series of articles about then-Mahoning County Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock’s questionable use of county credit cards to take unauthorized trips with Jennings, her then-boyfriend.

A special state audit determined she used the credit cards contrary to the county’s travel policy.

Sherlock paid the money back before the audit came out in May 2002.

During and after the audit, Dann served as Sherlock’s attorney.

Dann also served as Jennings’ attorney during the latter’s divorce from his second wife in 2001.

Like Jennings, Gutierrez is on paid leave.

That started April 7 shortly after two 26-year-old attorneys filed sexual harassment complaints against Gutierrez, their boss.

Vanessa Stout of Dublin, formerly of Brookfield, and Cindy Stankoski of New Albany contend Gutierrez frequently pressured them to have sex.

Dann lived with Jennings and Gutierrez from February to December 2007 in a Dublin condominium. Dann moved out in December.

Gutierrez is a neighbor of Dann’s in Liberty.

“That so many of the people in trouble are from the Mahoning Valley is a black eye for the area,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of the Youngstown State University political science department. “We keep seeing people from the Mahoning Valley raising suspicions.”

Two other Valley residents were fired by Dann last year — one who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1976 and the other for what the attorney general categorized as improperly taking two public salaries at the same time.

Stankoski and Stout said in complaint that Gutierrez, who is married, pressured both to have sex with him.

Personnel files show Gutierrez got involved in helping get a raise for Stout and hiring Stankoski before all background checks on her were done.

The office hired Stout on Nov. 26 at $13.23 an hour. On or before Dec. 11, e-mails show Gutierrez made a verbal request to the office’s human resources department to increase her pay to $13.75 an hour.

The request was approved a day later.

She and Stankoski currently receive $14 an hour.

The AG’s office, the top law enforcement department in the state, hired Stout even though under a question asking for “any felony or misdemeanor convictions in the past 10 years,” she listed, “assault, DUI and harassment.”

The form asks for dates of the convictions, but she didn’t list them.

The convictions were all misdemeanors with the assault being the first, happening in May 2000 in Mercer County, Pa., according to The Dispatch.

She was also charged March 12 with marijuana possession.

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