By Ed Runyan
Neither the Ohio Ethics Commission nor Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will say why they executed a search warrant Thursday at the offices of Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith.
Jill DelGreco, spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, confirmed that agents searched the North River Road engineer’s office and the computer-services offices at the Trumbull County Administration Building on Courthouse Square.
The BCI agents were assisting the ethics commission, DelGreco said.
Julie Korte, chief investigative attorney for the ethics commission, said all investigations carried out by the agency are confidential by law, “and there’s nothing I can share with you at this time.”
A call to Smith on Thursday was not returned.
The only clue as to what the investigation might be about is a lawsuit filed March 27 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court by the union steward at the engineer’s office that alleged Smith had engaged in illegal conduct. The lawsuit seeks Smith’s removal from office.
One allegation is that Smith’s hiring of Don Barzak as his director of government affairs and grants coordinator in September 2011, just after Smith took office Aug. 17, 2011, was improper because Smith and Barzak were business partners.
The lawsuit says Smith and Barzak first bought property together in Cortland in 2002 and also did so in Hartford Township in 2004 and in Hartford Township on Feb. 5, 2013.
The suit, filed by Kendall L. Stauffer Jr. of Girard, also alleged that Smith had worked as a private engineer on behalf of the county health board to review the Lafarge Landfill renewal application in January 2012, several months after he was appointed Trumbull County engineer.
The suit alleges Smith’s hiring of Barzak constitutes an unlawful interest in a public contract and that Smith falsified disclosure statements to the Ohio Ethics Commission various years starting in 2007 for not disclosing business relationships with Barzak.
Smith declined to comment on the lawsuit the day it was filed.
Barzak resigned his position with the engineer’s office in mid-April 2013 to return full time to his financial-planning and life-insurance business.
Atty. David Engler, who had a news conference in front of the Trumbull County Courthouse the day the lawsuit was filed, said he also had contacted the Ohio Ethics Commission regarding the allegations in the lawsuit.
The Trumbull County Democratic Party’s Central Committee selected Smith in August 2011 to serve as county engineer for 17 months to replace David DeChristofaro as county engineer. DeChristofaro resigned in the midst of a criminal investigation and civil suit over his use of county resources and employees to carry out personal and campaign-related tasks.
DeChristofaro pleaded guilty in July 2011 in common pleas court to a felony theft charge that arose from the investigation. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution and $7,400 for the cost of the criminal investigation.
Smith was elected in November 2012 to his own four-year term as county engineer.