Governor of Ohio pleads no contest to ethics violations

Taft charged with failing to report gifts worth an estimated $6,000

August 19, 2005|By Scott Gold | Scott Gold,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Ohio Gov. Robert A. Taft pleaded no contest yesterday to charges that he violated state ethics laws by failing to report golf outings and other gifts, the latest development in a wide-ranging political scandal triggered by a $50 million investment of public money in rare coins.

Taft, a second-term Republican, entered his plea less than 24 hours after he was charged with failing to report more than 50 gifts worth about $6,000. In addition to the rounds of golf, they included meals and hockey tickets, prosecutors said. Two golf outings were paid for by coin dealer Thomas Noe, the Republican Party fundraiser behind the unusual coin investment.

Franklin County Municipal Judge Mark S. Froehlich found Taft guilty, fined him $4,000 - $1,000 for each of the four misdemeanor charges - and demanded an apology on behalf of the public.

"From the shores of Lake Erie to the banks of the Ohio River, I want them to know that you are sorry for what you have done," the judge said.

The governor, the 63-year-old great-grandson of President William Howard Taft and the face of a century-old political dynasty in the Midwest, complied in a lengthy statement read in a quavering voice.

"Words are not adequate to express the remorse that I feel personally for the embarrassment that I have caused to my administration and to this great state," Taft said at a news conference. "I want to offer my sincere and heartfelt apology to my family, friends, staff members and all those who have supported me. Most importantly, I want to apologize to the citizens of Ohio."

Still, Taft played down his transgressions, explaining that they resulted from his office's poor record keeping and an inadequate system "to monitor the value of golf outings and other social events.

"While I can assure the public that my self-reported mistakes did not constitute a purposeful violation of law, I nevertheless failed to adhere to the disclosure requirements of Ohio's ethics laws," he said.

The governor will not face jail time.

In May, officials learned that $13 million was missing from the state investment fund managed by Noe, a well-connected figure in the state GOP and a regional chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, has alleged that Noe may have stolen $4 million from the $55.4 million fund, which was designed as an investment for the state's Workers' Compensation Bureau.

The revelations sparked a host of investigations into what critics call Ohio's "pay-to-play" political system, as well as Taft's financial disclosures.

Taft, elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002, is barred from seeking another term. His involvement in the investment scandal, though seemingly peripheral, sparked calls for him to resign before his term ends next year.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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