Jennings’ hiring of lawyer thickens plot

By David Skolnick

Leo Jennings III, the former communications director for ex-Attorney General Marc Dann, has hired a criminal defense attorney who says his client doesn’t need legal representation.

Why did Jennings hire Marty Yavorcik to represent him as a Franklin County grand jury investigates potential criminal acts committed by those in the short-lived but hard-partying Dann administration?

“It’s smart for everyone to have a lawyer,” Yavorcik said. “I don’t think he has any criminal problems. I don’t think he needs a lawyer, but I don’t blame him with everything that’s happened.”

While Yavorcik is a criminal defense attorney, he said Jennings isn’t concerned that he committed any crimes and hired him because the two have known each other for years.

The Ohio Ethics Commission referred charges of criminal conduct to county prosecutors in Franklin, Mahoning and Trumbull counties a few weeks ago against Anthony S. Gutierrez in connection to a scandal during the Dann administration.

The commission’s report alleges at least five misdemeanor or ethics violations by Gutierrez, a close friend of Dann who lived with the former attorney general and with Jennings at a Dublin condominium.

The report contends Gutierrez, Dann’s director of general services, used state equipment and resources to operate his private construction business, hid the fact he owned the business from state officials, and improperly received money from Dann’s campaign fund through “deception.”

The report urged further investigation into the conduct of Dann, Alyssa Lenhoff [Dann’s wife], and Jennings, among others.

Dann and Lenhoff have denied any wrongdoing.

Now Yavorcik is doing the same for Jennings.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who’s coordinating the investigation, said he’s been in contact with Yavorcik as well as attorneys for Dann and Gutierrez.

Sources say Gutierrez is cooperating with the investigation by providing information on others who may have committed illegal acts in exchange for a plea agreement to reduce any charges filed against him.

The ethics commission is continuing to investigate payments of about $100,000 from Dann’s campaign fund to Jennings, who contends the money was for political consulting work.

Investigations into the conduct of officials in Dann’s administration have questioned Jennings’ credibility. For example, the Ohio Inspector General’s report released Dec. 22 states: “It is clear the consulting fee payments to Jennings were nothing more than a way to misappropriate campaign funds for personal use.”

The same report states Jennings told Dann it was costing him too much money to live near Columbus and his salary of about $100,000 a year as the AG’s communications director wasn’t covering those costs.

The report states Dann decided to pay Jennings a monthly consulting fee of $3,000 with the caveat that Jennings would pay the rent and utilities for the condo. Jennings denies the increase was to cover his living expenses and the money was for his work on campaign issues, the report states.

Yavorcik said Dann “was planning big things,” starting with seeking the chairmanship of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Jennings “should have been paid more. We can show the amount of time he put in. He should have been paid $10,000 a month.”

As for paying all of the rent and utilities at the Dublin condo, Yavorcik said Jennings could do whatever he wanted with the money.

“Whether he used it to rent an apartment, to buy a Cadillac or drink Scotch at Mitchell’s,” a high-end steak house in Columbus, “that’s his business,” Yavorcik said.

As has been the case with the Dann investigation, the plot continues to thicken.

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