By David Skolnick
YOUNGSTOWN — Despite acknowledging an affair with his former scheduler, Attorney General Marc Dann insists he won’t resign.
“I’m a better attorney general now than I was 16 months ago,” he said. “I was elected by the people of Ohio. We are doing great work.”
Dann fired Anthony Gutierrez as director of general services and Leo Jennings III as communications director after the Friday release of a report that detailed numerous accounts of sexual harassment of two of his female subordinates as well as violations of the office’s policy on state vehicles.
Jennings lost his job when he asked an attorney at the office to not be truthful when questioned during the investigation, something she refused to do.
Also, Edgar Simpson, his chief of policy and administration, resigned for failing to stop the improper conduct.
Dann then admitted the affair, something that has been rumored for months, but never confirmed.
“At a difficult time in my marriage, I got involved in a romantic relationship with a member of my staff. That conduct was intrinsically wrong. My conduct has caused my family and my employees great, immense hurt and embarrassment,” Dann said, reading from a prepared statement.
Dann admitted that his extramarital affair made it easier for others in his office to feel such inappropriate behavior was acceptable.
“I’m really afraid that I contributed to that,” Dann said shortly after the results of an internal investigation into sexual harassment were released.
Dann, 46, a Liberty Democrat, didn’t specifically name the woman with whom he had the affair during his press conference in Columbus or during two interviews he had in connection with the investigation.
But in an interview with The Vindicator after Friday’s press conference, Dann indicated the woman was Jessica Utovich, 28, of Columbus, his former scheduler.
She resigned from the office Thursday.
“Did I set a bad example? Yes,” Dann told The Vindicator.
In an April 22 interview with Dann as part of the investigation, the attorney general admitted to Ben Espy, the office’s executive assistant attorney general who headed the investigation, that Utovich was at his Dublin condominium “early in the morning and she was there in the evenings.”
In a follow-up interview April 30, Dann told Espy: “You know, I have knowledge that she stayed overnight. What I don’t want to do is allow this serious investigation about allegations of sexual harassment to be transformed into something that is about rumor and innuendo. And so there are a variety of reasons, but I, I don’t think it adds any value to your investigation to respond.”
Dann said that one reason he went back for the second interview was Espy interrupted him “before I finished my answer in the first interview on Jessica.”
During Utovich’s testimony April 15, Espy asked if she ever stayed overnight at Dann’s condo.
“I don’t feel comfortable answering that,” she responded.
“Are you refusing to answer that?” Espy asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Could I ask you why you’re uncomfortable answering that?”
After a long pause, Utovich said, “I just am.”
Espy said Friday that her refusal to answer the question “is an answer itself” that she had a relationship with Dann.
Espy said Utovich told him that she went to Dann’s house to deliver schedules.
“I don’t think you deliver a schedule overnight,” Espy said Friday.
Dann’s wife, Alyssa Lenhoff, wrote in an e-mail that “there is nothing I want to say now. If that changes, I will let you know.”
Dann said his affair went on for several months.
“I think the only way to end the sideshow, the only way to do that is to tell the truth and put everything on the table,” he said.
A Sept. 10 incident at a Dublin condominium shared by Dann and Gutierrez and Jennings, two longtime friends and members of his management staff, was at the heart of the investigation.
The results of the internal probe showed that Gutierrez, the director of general services, sexually harassed two subordinates, Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout, both 26.
“I think the only way to end the sideshow, the only way to do that is to tell the truth and put everything on the table,” He, along with Jennings, were fired Friday.
Jennings lost his job because he asked Jennifer Urban, an attorney in the office, to “be loose with the facts” about them being together at a restaurant with Gutierrez and Stankoski, Espy said.
On Sept. 10, Stankoski said Gutierrez took her drinking and brought her to the Dublin condo after Dann called him asking if he wanted pizza. When the pair arrived Utovich was already there with a laptop on the floor. Jennings wasn’t there.
Stankoski said she went out drinking that night with Gutierrez and woke up on his bed at the condo after falling asleep.
Throughout a long day which included not only the press conference and a meeting with Gov. Ted Strickland but separate editorial board interviews with newspapers, including a late-evening visit to The Vindicator offices, Dann steadfastly maintained he would not step aside.
“I was elected by the people of the state of Ohio. We have done great legal work in this office,” he said. “There is nobody who has raised a single concern about the delivery of our services in this office. ... The people of the state will have the opportunity to make that decision some other time.”