Ohio Gov. Taft charged with omitting gifts from financial disclosures

Golf outings paid for by others weren't reported

August 18, 2005|By Tim Jones | Tim Jones,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft was charged yesterday with four criminal misdemeanor counts for not reporting golf outings and other favors that were paid for by lobbyists, friends and businessmen.

Taft, a great-grandson of President William Howard Taft, faces the possibility of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail on each count if convicted, but jail time is considered unlikely.

A Taft spokesman said the 63-year-old governor, a Republican, will not resign from office. Taft will publicly address the charges against him, filed in Franklin County Municipal Court, today, when he is expected to appear in court, the spokesman said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and Columbus City Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh said the charges stem from omissions in Taft's financial disclosure statements from 2002 to 2005. The gifts were worth about $5,800, they said.

Taft said last weekend that he was responsible for failing to report the golf outings on the disclosure forms. State law says officials must report gifts valued at more than $75 if the donor wasn't reimbursed for the gift.

O'Brien also said Taft did not report accepting tickets to a professional hockey game in Columbus.

Taft is the state's first governor to be charged with a crime while in office and is the highest-ranking state official to face charges in an investment and cronyism scandal that has rocked the state's Republican Party.

State auditors found early this year that up to $13 million was missing from a state investment fund handled by Thomas Noe, a well-connected Republican fundraiser who chaired the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in northwestern Ohio. Noe has been accused of stealing $4 million from the fund.

Noe had strong connections to high-ranking elected Republicans in the state, and multiple investigations - by state, federal and three special grand juries - spread to financial-disclosure statements that officials are required to file annually.

The Ohio Ethics Commission completed its review of Taft's financial filings last week and forwarded its findings to prosecutors. Two of Taft's golf outings, prosecutors said, were paid for by Noe.

"It's an enormous embarrassment, partly because the Taft family, until recently, had a very strong reputation for integrity," said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.

Taft's former chief of staff was convicted of an ethics violation last month.

Taft's great-grandfather was president and chief justice of the United States. His grandfather, Sen. Robert Taft, known as "Mr. Republican," sought the GOP presidential nomination three times. Robert Taft Jr., the governor's father, served three terms in the U.S. House and one in the Senate.

Taft is serving his second term and is prohibited from seeking re-election. His term expires at the end of next year.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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