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Candidate faces four campaign charges

LISBON — Four campaign violation-related charges were filed in Columbiana County Municipal Court this week against Chief Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble, who is seeking the county prosecutor seat in November.

The unclassified misdemeanor charges of complicity were filed by Jon Lieber, an agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The charges came about 10 days after the date on a letter from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost regarding alleged violations of Ohio’s Little Hatch Act due to classified police officers from East Liverpool appearing on Gamble’s campaign Facebook page.

According to the affidavit filed in court Monday, Gamble is accused of causing Darin Morgan and Fred Flati, both classified officers from East Liverpool, to participate in politics other than to vote as the officer pleases and to express freely political opinions between July 16 and Aug. 3. There are two charges involving each officer. Neither officer appears to have been charged.

Gamble had appeared on the courthouse steps with a number of police officers from several departments, including the two named in court documents along with a caption that reads, “Over 500 years of law enforcement experience standing with John Gamble. They have his back in the election because he’s had their backs for the last 30 years.”

Police officers employed as civil service officers obtain their jobs after taking a civil service exam and are governed by civil service commission rules.

The letter from Yost and a similar letter from the Columbiana County Republicans suggested Gamble had possibly solicited or pressured the officers, who are in classified service, as opposed to several of the other officers. Gamble contends the officers did nothing wrong and were freely expressing their own political opinions.

On July 31, Gamble added a new caption to his Facebook campaign page where there are more photos of him with police officers stating, “As your County Prosecutor, I will continue to protect and enforce ALL your constitutional rights, including your right to free speech.”

Gamble and others forwarded materials to the Journal showing law enforcement officers, although not necessarily all classified law enforcement officers, in photos and videos on a campaign website for Yost, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine when he was attorney general.

Vito Abruzzino, the Republican running for county prosecutor, also has a photo where he is posing with Perry Township police officers posted to his campaign Facebook page, where he references his working for more than a decade with both U.S. military police and civilian law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals.

Abruzzino has served with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and the Air Force Reserves and talks about his military service, including photos on his page. He also has a disclaimer in one corner of his Facebook page stating “use of military uniforms and/or rank does not imply the endorsement of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army or the Department of the Air Force.”

The charges filed against Gamble carry a fine of not less than $50 or more than $500 and a possible imprisonment of six months if he is convicted.

djohnson@mojonews.com

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