By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Governor Voinovich and others accused of scheming to launder campaign expenses will have nine more days to respond to the allegations.
Philip Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, gave attorneys until Dec. 4 to file responses to the charges, which could carry penalties including a $10,000 fine and removal from office.
The responses were due yesterday.
Mr. Voinovich is accused of plotting with his brother, Paul, and other officials of his 1994 re-election campaign to camouflage a $60,000 campaign expenditure as “voter program development services.”
According to testimony gathered in a federal grand jury investigation, that money was funneled to companies controlled by Paul Voinovich and lobbyist Michael Anthony Fabiano, using consultant Nick Mamias as a middleman.
The allegations reached the Ohio Elections Commission in late October, when Secretary of State Bob Taft referred the federal testimony to the commission as credible evidence of a campaign law violation.
The referral was discovered by rival Democrats on Nov. 2, the day before Governor Voinovich’s election to the U.S. Senate. Mr. Taft is now the governor-elect.
Governor Voinovich has denied knowingly authorizing any misrepresentation, despite grand jury testimony of his campaign treasurer, Vincent Panichi. Mr. Panichi testified that the governor specifically approved the plan to use a middleman.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the governor’s attorneys requested a delay longer than the one Mr. Richter granted. They argued that the governor should not have to respond to the allegations until the commission decides what to do with a similar set of allegations filed on Nov. 19 by Warren, O., labor leader Harold Nichols.
On Dec. 10, the commission is expected either to dismiss Mr. Nichols’ complaint, which covers much of the same ground as Mr. Taft’s, or combine the two.
Mr. Voinovich’s attorneys asked that their response be pushed back to five days after that decision is made.
Mr. Richter rejected that argument, saying a quick response was “in the best interests of this commission.”
But because of the timing of that motion’s filing, he said, he granted the extension to Dec. 4.
“It’s a fair and reasonable decision,” said attorney David Young, who is representing the governor.
At the Dec. 10 hearing, the commission will make a preliminary review of the case, which could include hiring a private investigator to examine the charges.