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The former attorney general used donations to buy meals, reports filed with state show.
WASHINGTON — Between political luncheons and banquets, dinners with staff and stops at gas stations for sodas and newspapers, former Attorney General Marc Dann often relied on his campaign kitty for meal money throughout his first year in office.
The charges aren't illegal, but campaign finance watchdogs say the funds are supposed to be used for election purposes or to assist in performing one's duty in office. Dann, they say, may have violated the spirit of the law.
"I think there's a danger in the practice of using your campaign account to basically afford you a lifestyle," said Nick Nyhart of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance watchdog in Washington, D.C.
Dann, who earned $109,990 as attorney general, dipped into his campaign funds far more than the other statewide officeholders in Ohio, an examination of annual campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state shows.
Dann, for example, charged his campaign for food and beverages more than 300 times last year, according to his annual report. During the same time period, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner charged 12 meal or food expenses to her campaign's dime. Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray charged his campaign for food just four times.
Republican Auditor Mary Taylor charged her campaign for food 86 times on her report, mostly for Lincoln Day dinners or county Republican Party events.
And Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland charged his campaign for 91 meals, although it is difficult to track all of Strickland's meal expenses because he may have charged meals to hotels where he stayed on official trips.
As the Ohio Secretary of State's Office continues a routine audit of Dann's campaign expenditures, its auditors will find a few costs unique to Dann among Ohio statewide officeholders. They include:
• More than $30,000 in security expenses to SOS Security and Water Street Doors.
• Airline tickets for Charlie Dann, Marc Dann's son, and Jessica Utovich, Dann's onetime scheduler and girlfriend, to Texas for the Young Democrats Convention.
• $392 for XM Satellite Radio for Dann's campaign car and, later, his state car.
In an e-mail, Dann defended each of those purchases. He said Utovich and his son "were both volunteers in my campaign. Charlie would frequently speak as a surrogate for me during and after the election campaign. The training that each of them attended at the Young Democrats meetings was a benefit to the campaign."
Utovich resigned as an internal investigation substantiated sexual harassment claims involving two women in Dann's office. Dann later admitted to an affair with a member of his staff, which turned out to be Utovich.
In his e-mail, Dann said the security system was essential because of death threats against himself and his children.
At the time he received those threats, Dann's office was cracking down on unregulated gambling in the state and at least one threat was related to that work, he said. A second set of threats surfaced after his office reclassified sexual offenders under the Adam Walsh Act, he said.
Initially the office recommended that Dann be protected by the Highway Patrol and his family by the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, commonly referred to as BCI. "I became increasingly concerned about the cost of the agents and troopers and asked if there were alternatives," he wrote. "The BCI Superintendent, the Chief of Staff and the Trooper in charge of my detail suggested that a security system at home would make 24-hour security unnecessary." He said he consulted with the campaign's lawyers, who told him such a cost was appropriate.
As for the XM?
"XM radio was for the campaign car and later the state car that I traveled in," he wrote. "I have put over 180,000 miles on the campaign vehicle and the state vehicle since fall of 2005. Keeping up on news was important." He said the expenditure was approved by counsel for the campaign.
Phil Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said questions about such expenses are often addressed on a case-by-case basis. "There's a but/for test," he said. "But for the fact that I hold this office, I would not hold that expense."
He said no one has filed a complaint with the elections commission over Dann's campaign expenditures.
Catherine Turcer of Ohio Citizen Action, a citizen advocacy group, argued that Dann should have used his own money for basic expenses. "There's a point where you know you're just taking advantage," she said. "And let's face it, he was just taking advantage."
The purchases irritated Dann donor Mike Gehrig, 61, a Cincinnati trial lawyer who gave the Youngstown Democrat $50 on June 5, 2006. Gehrig said he donated to Dann with the idea that the money would be used for TV and radio advertising.
"I donated to him because I heard his credentials were fabulous and he was well-respected," he said.
"Whatever happened to him, I don't know."
Thursday, May 22, 2008
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NASHVILLE (WVLT) -- Law enforcement will be able to identify convicted sex offenders just by looking at their driver's licenses, thanks to Knoxville Sen. Tim Burchett (Email).
Burchett says the measure will allow police to identify child sex offenders who violate conditions of their lifetime monitoring.
That prohibits convicted offenders from going places where children can be found, like parks and schools.
If convicted sex offenders do not carry the encoded license, they will face up to 90 days in jail and a $350 fine for the first offense; 180 days in jail and $600 dollars for a second; and $1,100 dollars and up to a year in prison for a third offense.
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Former APD Officer Scott Lando has been indicted by the Travis County Grand Jury on several different felony charges. He was fired from the force earlier this year after APD officials determined he had repeatedly hired prostitutes, provided women with drugs, and even paid a woman for sex by giving her some of his wife's clothes.
The grand jury indicted Lando on charges of aggravated assault by a public servant, misuse of official information, delivery of a controlled substance, and prostitution. He could face up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
"This is not off-duty, casual misconduct in our view," Assistant Chief David Carter said last month when the department announced Lando was being put on indefinite suspension. "We recognize that it is a breach of the public's trust."
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Hamilton County - For the first time, a Hamilton County soldier is speaking out about her former Army recruiter who is facing prison time for sexual battery and abusing his authority. She's one of seven young women who encountered the attacks.
"Jane" is a young career soldier on a mission "to get what he deserves because I mean what he did is sick and just horrifying," she said.
Eyewitness News is concealing Jane's identity to protect her privacy. Jane's words are aimed at the former recruiter who betrayed her trust.
"This was definitely a life-altering event for us, and now I think we just all want to turn it around and make it life-altering for him," she said.
Former Indiana National Guard Recruiter, Eric Vetesy, 39, pleaded guilty to ten charges of sexual battery, official misconduct and corrupt business influence last week. He admitted to groping and forcing sexual acts on as many as seven high school girls he recruited in Hamilton County. In exchange for the plea, a rape charge was dropped.
"We were unknowing, we were just looking for guidance, looking for a career path and somebody took advantage of us. I just wanted this guy behind bars," Jane said.
The deal is the second offered by prosecutors. But last October, this 22-year-old and several sister recruits say they were surprised when the prosecutor struck the original deal with Vetesy that would not include a prison sentence.
"He's getting consequences here and they essentially did not want to go beyond that," said Sonja Leerkamp, Hamilton County prosecutor.
"Obviously it wasn't because we're going through the court again trying to get a harsher punishment," said Jane.
A Hamilton County judge threw the first plea deal out. This time around, when he returns to court, Vetesy could face a maximum four years.
"Here he did this to a group of girls and has a four-year maximum, that just doesn't seem fair," Jane said.
For Jane and others it's already been four years since the violent encounters. They've suffered bouts of depression and low self-esteem. But they're taking their stands at military posts around the world a bit wiser and stronger.
"I will be happy if he gets the prison time and becomes a registered sex offender and has the probation like they're saying," said Jane.
Vetesy's sentencing is July 3rd. The prosecutor's office did not return our calls for comment. At least two of the victims are now serving in Iraq.
Betrayal of Trust - Read a 13 Investigates special report on Vetesy and another recruiter accused of abusing his authority.
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AUSTIN -- A Williamson County teen who pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault after having consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 17 was back in court Wednesday to say goodbye to his attorney.
Jean Karlo Ponzanelli had pleaded guilty to the reduced charge despite his claim the girl had lied to him about her age. He was given probation but was also placed on the state's sex offender registry.
As a result, he was forced to quit school and move out of his mother's home. He also had difficulty keeping a job.
So he was rearrested, and now the state wants to revoke his probation and send him to prison.
Yet Wednesday's court hearing wasn't about any of that.
Ponzanelli's attorney, angered over a confrontation with the defendant's family, wanted to withdraw from the case.
"This is delaying the entire process again, you understand that?" said State District Court Judge Burt Carnes.
With that, Ponzanelli's attorney was off the case, but the judge moved to get him another one.
"OK, then I'm going to reinstate Mr. Lauerman on the case, your original court-appointed lawyer," Carnes said.
Yet outside the courtroom, attorney Jim Sawyer said he still has an interest in helping Ponzanelli.
"It's not just this case; there are too many cases like this happening all across the state, not just in this county but too many counties," Sawyer said. "Yeah, I think the result is horrendous. You're getting 17-year-olds pegged as pedophiles for the rest of their lives. You're destroying their ability to live any kind of productive life. Yeah, it's asinine."
In fact, Sawyer believes it may be time for lawmakers to take another look at their handiwork.
"You're going to have law enforcement arguing it's a good law, a proper law, a just law, that 17-year-olds should be able to be in control of their hormones, which is a stupid and foolish thing to say," Sawyer said. "There will be a conflict, but I think you may get some legislators who look around and think, 'This is pretty crazy; we're taking our children and punishing them unduly.'"
Meanwhile, Ponzanelli is due back in court again on June 10.
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Video is available at the site. It's funny how nobody in congress gets "busy" until they are outed from a news agency. Open your darn eyes!!! You are creating a new class of homeless people, and when they are homeless, the public is all in more danger. A stable life puts everyone in less danger. It's only common sense, which we have very little of these days!
SEATTLE - The public was outraged last month when the state assigned a Level 3 sex offender to live under a bridge, raising questions about homeless sex offenders and public safety.
The KING 5 Investigators looked into it and found it's not that unusual.
Since that story aired, lawmakers are calling for change.
In Washington, parole officers are forced to assign homeless sex offenders to live under bridges, in tents, in parking lots and cars. No one wants them in their part of town and there's no money to cover any housing costs. That state funding dried up two years ago.
- Because the laws are so draconian, where else are they suppose to live?
"Was the community safer then? I felt so because we knew where they were at, they were more secure, they were more stable," said parole officer Mary Rehberg.
Some of the political leaders in our state watched KING 5's story and got busy.
"It was quite a revealing saga that you showed going to the rocky areas, under the freeways and the muddy areas and so forth," said Representative Al O'Brien, chair of the House public safety committee.
In the next session he'll push for transitional housing for sex offenders. Staff members are looking for properties right now.
- I'll believe it when I see it! Even when they create these, the public is going to be in an uproar. They have to live somewhere!
"Perhaps abandoned properties, perhaps the federal or state government has some we could create a housing unit, kind of like a barracks for these individuals who come out and don't have a plan," O'Brien said.
Representative Kirk Pearson (Contact) heard from his constituents after KING 5's investigation aired.
"I've received calls they were concerned, why is the Department of Corrections releasing people under bridges?" Pearson said. "Total outrage, total outrage. I don't blame my constituents."
One of Pearson's ideas: Get the Legislature to fund a full-time ombudsman to work on the issue.
"I do believe we need an ombudsman working with locals and finding the type of housing that is needed," he said.
Both lawmakers say with the spotlight now on this breakdown in the system, the time is right for the state to step up to help protect the public.
- And how to you expect to do this? Anytime a sex offender moves anywhere, the public raises hell about it. So where do you expect them to live?
"Absolutely, the time is right and I think it's very critical," Pearson said.