By Ed Runyan
Court documents unsealed Friday say state investigators were searching for information to show whether four allegations of misconduct at the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office had occurred.
Investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Ohio Ethics Commission seized records relating to whether Engineer Randy Smith had a conflict of interest because of the $390,727 he earned from BP America, and whether employee Greg Alberini Sr., Smith’s road supervisor, improperly supervised his son, Greg Alberini Jr.
An affidavit says Smith earned $390,727 in 2011 when he signed a lease with BP America to allow BP to use land he owns in Hartford and Fowler townships for gas and oil drilling.
He disclosed the earnings in a filing with the Ohio Ethics Commission, but Ohio law says Smith must not participate in matters involving BP to avoid a conflict of interest.
Smith may have had a conflict of interest because of his participation in the writing of Trumbull County’s Road Use and Maintenance Agreements (RUMA), which spell out the responsibilities BP had to prepare and repair roads used in its drilling activities, the affidavit says.
The agreements were overseen by Smith and his department.
Atty. Subodh Chandra of Cleveland, who represents Smith, said Smith “has always strived to be in strict compliance with both the letter and spirit of Ohio ethics laws and treasures his reputation.”
He added that once all of the facts are known, such as the legal advice sought regarding these matters, the investigators “will understand that there is no violation of the public trust here.”
The investigation is looking into whether 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. Barzak resigned in mid-April 2013.
The investigation also is looking into whether Smith had a conflict of interest when he received a $7,200 payment from his private business, Randy L. Smith Inc., in early 2012.
The payment was from the Trumbull County Board of Health for reviewing the renewal application for the Trumbull County Lafarge landfill.
The affidavit, unsealed Friday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, was filed by BCI to justify the search warrant it received from common pleas Judge Ronald Rice.
With the search warrant, BCI and Ohio Ethics Commission investigators went to the county engineer’s office Thursday, seizing personnel files, computers, phones and other items from several offices.
BCI provided the court Friday with a list of items taken, including a device containing email from Greg Alberini Sr., Smith, Jack Simon, RUMA coordinator; and Barzak, as well as personnel files for Alberini Sr., Alberini Jr. and Barzak.
Smith and Barzak bought rental properties together before and after Smith hired Barzak to work for him, the affidavit said.
Investigators also seized a BP file and ones for other oil and gas companies, as well as phones from Smith, Alberini Sr. and Gary Shaffer, an engineer.
Investigators also went to the Trumbull County Administration Building on Courthouse Square to retrieve files from the county’s Data Processing Department on the third floor.
The allegations relating to Smith’s relationship with Barzak and the Trumbull County Board of Health were contained in a lawsuit filed March 27 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court by Kendall L. Stauffer Jr., one of Smith’s employees at the engineer’s office. It seeks Smith’s removal from office.