By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Governor Voinovich has been accused of laundering $60,000 from his 1994 re-election campaign fund to pay a political supporter’s salary, according to documents disclosed yesterday.
Almost half of the money allegedly ended up in the hands of The V Group, a consulting firm run by the governor’s brother, Paul Voinovich, which is under federal investigation in a separate public corruption probe.
The allegations are detailed in two complaints referred to the Ohio Elections Commission by Secretary of State Bob Taft Wednesday.
The complaints, based on in formation turned over to Mr. Taft by the Franklin County prosecutor the previous day, were uncovered by a Democratic Party attorney yesterday. They accuse the Republican governor and four others of lying about where the $60,000 went.
The maximum penalty for the offense, misrepresentation of a campaign expenditure, is a $1,000 fine and forfeiture of office.
The governor, in a prepared statement, said that he will co operate with authorities “and provide full information in an appropriate and timely manner.” He said he was not aware of the specific nature of the charges, because his personal attorney is out of the country.
The election commission scheduled a preliminary hearing for Dec. 10 on the complaints to decide if a full hearing is justified.
Ohio voters will decide today whether to send Mr. Voinovich to the U.S. Senate. He is a heavy favorite over Democrat Mary Boyle.
The charges are detailed in a stack of documents stemming from an Internal Revenue Service investigation of The V Group. According to the documents, the governor used $60,000 in campaign funds to reimburse two companies for the salary of Ray Gallagher, a Cleveland pipefitter union leader and longtime Voinovich supporter.
According to the complaint, Mr. Gallagher needed a job after he was forced to withdraw his name for a post on the Ohio Industrial Commission to which the governor had nominated him. Mr. Gallagher could not serve because he had a felony conviction for theft in office in the 1970s, the complaint said.
Mr. Gallagher got a job with a lobbying firm run by Michael Fabiano of Worthington, O., and Mr. Voinovich’s brother, Paul, agreed to pay half of Mr. Gallagher’s salary, because of his previous support for the governor’s campaign, the complaint alleges.
After Mr. Gallagher did not perform well in the job and was let go, Paul Voinovich and Mr. Fabiano decided to seek reimbursement from the Voinovich re-election campaign for the $60,000 they had spent, according to the complaint. After negotiations, the complaint said, the governor personally approved paying the money, but he did not want to do it by writing a check to The V Group. The governor then approved of using a middleman – Voinovich fund-raiser Nick Mamais – to hide where the money was going, the documents say.
Mr. Mamais was to receive the $60,000 and keep $3,000 for himself and then was to split the remaining $57,000 between Paul Voinovich and Mr. Fabiano. According to campaign finance filings and copies of canceled checks included with the complaint, he did.
The Voinovich campaign listed the $60,000 expenditure on its campaign finance reports as “voter program development services.”
Although the charges were filed last week, they were made public only yesterday, when Don McTigue, an election-law specialist who works for Democratic clients, heard a rumor about the filing and asked for a copy of the file from the election commission. The election commission is a seven-member appointed state body that investigates complaints of election-law violations.
The IRS investigation was spawned by the federal corruption probe into The V Group. When federal officials saw evidence of a possible state election-law violation, they turned it over to the Franklin County prosecutor’s office.
But the prosecutor does not have jurisdiction under Ohio law to prosecute election violations. Last Tuesday, after a federal court order, the prosecutor turned the case over to the secretary of state’s office, which is in charge of enforcing election laws.
The next day, Secretary of State Bob Taft turned the matter over to the election commission.
Democratic Party Chairman David Leland was quick to criticize the quiet manner in which that was done, saying that it was only by chance that the Democrats were able to uncover the allegations the day before the election.
“If this was a Democratic governor, you can be sure there would have been a big press conference,” he said.
But Mr. Taft said the federal court order that turned information over to the secretary of state’s office did not allow him to turn over information to the news media.
Blade staff writers James Drew, Jeff Cohan, and Vanessa Gezari contributed to this report.