Dann fires 2 aides, says ‘they let me down’

By Marc Kovac

The investigation did not include questions about affairs involving Dann or others.

COLUMBUS — Anthony Gutierrez sexually harassed employees, reminded subordinates of his families ties to organized crime and “repeatedly drove a state vehicle while consuming alcohol,” according to the results of an investigation released by Attorney General Marc Dann’s office.

Additionally, the Democratic officeholder’s top spokesman and strategist, Leo Jennings III, asked a witness in the wide-reaching probe to “play a little bit fast and loose” with the facts when answering potentially incriminating or embarrassing questions — thus interfering with the investigation.

Both were fired Friday as a result, while a third, Edgar Simpson, Dann’s chief of policy and administration, submitted his resignation Thursday evening. He would have been discharged had he not done so.

“I hired them with great hopes,” Dann said. “I believed they brought strengths and good qualities to the job. Unfortunately, they let me down, but I take full responsibility.”

For his part, Dann admitted “cronyism” in his office’s hiring practices, apologized for carrying on an affair with a subordinate and vowed to clean up the tarnished image of the attorney general’s office under his administration.

Dann also said he would not resign. He said he’s a better attorney general today than when he took office in 2007.

“I have not conducted myself in a way that is consistent with my values as a husband, a father and my responsibilities as attorney general,” he said, his voice breaking at times. “... I will work tirelessly to re-earn the public’s trust.”

Ben Espy, executive assistant attorney general; Julie Pfeiffer, assistant attorney general; and Thomas Winters, first assistant attorney general, released the findings and actions Friday during a news conference in Columbus. Dann spoke to reporters during a separate press conference afterward.

The investigation was launched a month ago after two 26-year-old employees, Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout, alleged Gutierrez made lewd comments, used “extreme profanity,” leered at female employees and boasted of his “alleged power and authority.”

On the latter, according to the report, Stankoski claims that on numerous occasions Gutierrez talked openly about his alleged ties to the Mafia, that he often remarked “no one messes with my crew” and bragged he could “get anything done.”

Stankoski also told investigators that Gutierrez “frequently bragged about his power and influence he enjoyed from his close friendship with Dann, which, she believed, enabled him to “act with virtual impunity.”

Gutierrez denied the comments, other than informal remarks that his grandfather may have been involved with organized crime. After more than 20 under-oath interviews with individuals involved and reviews of hundreds of pages of related documents, investigators determined Gutierrez “did create a hostile work environment,” Espy said.

“There was sexual harassment in this case. The lines were blurred to some extent. We don’t know if some of these things were welcomed or unwelcomed, based on the use of alcohol when these events occurred,” Espy said.

Evidence also was presented alleging that Gutierrez had a gun in his state-issued vehicle before obtaining a concealed-carry permit. That issue has been turned over to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for further investigation.

“Mr. Gutierrez, even without the sexual harassment, there were enough violations for us to recommend that he be terminated immediately,” Espy said.

Jennings’ termination was linked to an electronic message he sent to another employee in which he asked her to “play loose” with the facts of the case when questioned. The investigation report recommended Jennings be “harshly disciplined,” but Winters confirmed that he was discharged.

He’s “a senior-level person in the office, and he knew the importance of this investigation, and ... took efforts to thwart [it],” Espy said.

Simpson, who oversaw human resources and general services, resigned after failing to take action after the sexual harassment complaints were made. The complainants contacted human resources in early March, but they were not separated from Gutierrez until weeks later.

“When you have a sexual harassment complaint, the first thing you normally do is separate the two people,” Espy said. “That was not done from March 7 until at least March 31.”

The investigation did not include questions about affairs involving Dann or others.

“He was not the subject of the sexual harassment complaints,” Winters said.

“Our actions came from the report and the complaints. That’s the only answer I’ve got for that,” Espy said.

Espy added: “Our investigative scope was very narrow. We were charged to look into the [specific allegations] of two complaints against one individual. We did not assume the role of being the moral police. It was not our responsibility to investigate the accuracy of the rumors. We are sure that those rumors were fueled by the actions of a very few people and members of their families.

“Cronyism has no place in this office. People should not be hired if they are not qualified to take the job,” Espy said.

Among the recommendations included in the report, Espy pinpointed the need for management and employee training on issues of professionalism and “effective interpersonal communication skills.” He said Dann should be included in that process.

Asked why there was no further discipline outlined for the attorney general, Espy replied, “Who will give the discipline? ... I can’t recommend suspension. I can’t recommend a reprimand. I recommend more training.”

Winters added, “We can’t discharge him. We can’t suspend him. We don’t have that authority or power. I recommended that he take advantage of this further training.”

Espy also said he was proud of the 1,400 workers in the attorney general’s office who “come to work every day and do their job for the people of the state of Ohio. They’ve been able to work through those distractions. But, clearly, they are distractions. And it’s something that we hope that this [internal investigation] begins to put behind the office so that people can go about their daily business, including the complainant and the administration.”


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