By JAMES NASH
After pocketing more than $42,000 during a seven-month administrative leave, a special agent who works in a division of the attorney general’s office has been fired over work-related sexual misconduct.
Attorney General Marc Dann’s office fired Dwight L. Aspacher, a special agent for the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, on April 11 after a long investigation into allegations that he demanded sex from a fellow member of a narcotics task force.
Documents show that although Aspacher was suspended two days after the allegations came to light, Dann’s office didn’t open a formal investigation until more than three months later. The documents don’t shed light on the reasons for the delay, and aides to Dann couldn’t provide an explanation late Friday.
As is standard procedure during disciplinary investigations, Aspacher was paid during his leave — a total of more than $42,000.
His firing came as Dann’s office opened an investigation into allegations that Anthony Gutierrez, a friend of Dann’s who headed the office’s purchasing and support services, had made sexual advances and comments toward two underlings.
Dann suspended Gutierrez on April 7, the day after a Dispatch article publicized the allegations against him. An investigation into the matter is expected to be complete next week.
Dann’s office suspended Aspacher with pay Aug. 30, two days after a woman reported the allegations to fellow members of the Warren County Drug Task Force, of which Aspacher was the assistant field commander.
The attorney general’s office formally launched its internal investigation into Aspacher’s conduct Dec. 17, according to documents in his personnel file.
According to the complaint, Aspacher repeatedly made sexual comments to a 26-year-old woman on the drug task force, groped her on several occasions, tried to take pictures up her skirt with a digital camera, showed her naked pictures of himself and compelled her to perform oral sex on him three times — once in a state vehicle. The woman also said Aspacher once masturbated while driving down a state highway with her in the passenger seat.
The investigation continued into this month as Aspacher, who is represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, contested some of the charges against him and argued that the attorney general’s office overreached by trying to fire him instead of imposing lesser discipline.
Aspacher continued to draw a salary during his nearly eight months of administrative leave, which is standard practice in the office.
The 41-year-old agent, paid $33.53 an hour, made $86,221 last year, including overtime, before he was placed on leave.
Aspacher, hired Feb. 2, 1998, was suspended for three days last summer for an April letter harshly criticizing the Montgomery County prosecutor for purported leniency in going after drug dealers. Otherwise, he received mostly glowing performance reviews.
His case differs from Gutierrez’s in several key ways.
As a manager, Gutierrez does not have union protections. In addition, the two women who accuse him of sexual harassment both are subordinates in his office.
Aspacher is a union member, and his accuser does not work for the attorney general’s office.
“I certainly wouldn’t compare this at all to the case of Gutierrez,” said Jennifer Brindisi, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. “It’s important to point out that the case is going into arbitration and [Aspacher] is challenging the fact that he has been terminated, so we can’t comment any further.”
Neither Aspacher nor his union representative, Joel Barden, could be reached.
During a hearing on whether Aspacher should be fired, Barden countered the office’s claim that Aspacher had stolen state time to further a sexual relationship by pointing out that each episode of oral sex took less than two minutes.
Barden also noted that the incidents alleged by the drug task force member took place in 2002 and 2003 and that Aspacher had not been disciplined at the time. Barden suggested that punishment short of firing might be more appropriate.
In her interview, Aspacher’s alleged victim said she stepped forward with her complaint only after hearing that Aspacher had been making unwelcome advances toward other women more recently.
In another matter involving Gutierrez, the attorney general’s office is now looking into damage to a second SUV assigned to Gutierrez, said Dann spokesman Ted Hart.
Gutierrez, 50, is on paid administrative leave. Dann’s friend, neighbor and former roommate, Gutierrez is paid $87,500 a year to run the office maintenance, mailroom, purchasing and vehicle operations for the attorney general’s office.
The 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe assigned to Gutierrez in January showed up at a state garage March 18 with the right front bumper cover punched in so far that it affected the right front wheel, Hart said. There was no damage report filed and whoever dropped off the SUV for Gutierrez told garage workers that it had been hit while parked, Hart said.
The 2004 Chevy Suburban assigned to Gutierrez last year showed up with unexplained damage to the right side Oct. 10, roughly the same time that his employee, Cindy Stankoski, claims Gutierrez pressured her for sex and told her he got so drunk that he fell asleep at the wheel and awoke only when he hit a guardrail. No damage report was filed.
The state Department of Administrative Services sent a sternly worded letter to Dann’s office, calling for an investigation into the damaged vehicles and threatening to remove Gutierrez from the state’s insurance program if that wasn’t done.
Hart said the Ohio State Highway Patrol now is investigating the unexplained damage.
Once the patrol’s investigation is finished, administrative services will help Dann’s office review its fleet management practices, he said.