Decision due in Finkbeiner case; Prosecutor must rule on plea bargain in financial disclosure violation

By Tom Troy and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

Page 11

The special prosecutor assigned to handle an ethics investigation of Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he will decide this week whether to approve a plea bargain in the case.

Kevin Baxter, Erie County prosecutor, said yesterday that he is reviewing the Finkbeiner case and similar cases.

But he suggested that he will agree with the plea-bargain deal proposed by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

“I’ve always found them to be very thorough and detailed,” Mr. Baxter said of the ethics commission. “They have good judgment and discretion. In my review thus far, there is nothing to make me think differently about this case. I say that with the caveat that I have not finished the review.”

A four-year investigation by the ethics commission found evidence that the mayor failed to disclose a $10,000 payment he received in a real-estate deal his administration helped arrange.

The mayor has said his failure to list the 1994 payment on his state financial disclosure statement was an oversight. He has agreed that the failure is a violation of the law but says he hasn’t done anything unethical.

Monarch Development Co. paid the mayor and others who owned Commodore Island condominiums for agreeing to move from their homes early. The condominiums were moved so Owens Corning could build its headquarters on the Middlegrounds in downtown Toledo.

The mayor’s $10,000 payment was the least amount paid to the owners.

The commission agreed to dismiss two pending alleged first-degree misdemeanor complaints in return for the mayor’s guilty plea to a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

The mayor was facing the possibility of a six-month jail term and a $1,000 fine for each of the two first-degree misdemeanors. The maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

The charges must be presented in court by a prosecutor. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates asked that a special prosecutor be appointed, because she and Mr. Finkbeiner have contributed money to each other’s political campaigns.

Mr. Baxter said he is reviewing the allegations and the proposed deal and will contact the ethics commission with his decision as early as today. Should he choose not to recommend the plea bargain, Mr. Baxter can prosecute Mr. Finkbeiner on the first-degree misdemeanor charges.

Mr. Baxter met June 4 with officials of the Ohio Ethics Commission for two hours to discuss the case. David Freel, the ethics commission’s executive director, said the commissioners are waiting to hear Mr. Baxter’s decision.

Mr. Finkbeiner could not be reached for comment last night. His attorney, Tom Palmer, said he respects Mr. Baxter’s need to review the case and confer with the ethics commission. “I look forward to discussing this matter with him when he’s prepared to do so,” he said.