From Andrew Welsh-Huggins AP report from before the Memorial Day weekend:
The future of an Ohio program that allows low-risk inmates to work at the governor’s official residence, a practice that has been in place for decades but has come under intense scrutiny this year, is now in jeopardy after two inmates were found to be drinking there.
The outcome of a review ordered by Gov. Ted Strickland will determine whether the program continues, spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said Friday.
“The continuation of the program does depend on what the external review finds, so there is a possibility the program could end,” Wurst told The Associated Press.
The review follows the discovery Thursday that two inmates who spent the day working at the residence had been drinking. And it comes days after the state Senate denied confirmation of Stickland’s nominee as public safety chief, who was found to have called off a planned sting in January after inmates were suspected of using their mansion jobs to smuggle tobacco into prison.[...]
Strickland said Friday he believes one of the inmates accused of drinking, Nicholas Hoaja, might have done to sabotage his chances for release.
Hoaja had a blood-alcohol level of 0.27 percent and had to be treated at the Ohio State University hospital later Thursday, prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn said.
A prison worker picking up four inmates at the end of their shift at the governor’s residence Thursday noticed Hoaja acting strangely and contacted authorities when they arrived at the Pickaway Correctional Institution.
An investigation determined Hoaja and a second inmate, Dallas Feazell, had been drinking, and both were tested by patrol officers. Feazell had a blood-alcohol level of 0.53 percent.
I thought Hoaja’s name sounded familiar, and here it is in the Inspector General’s report:
The Governor and First Lady were scheduled to host a dinner that evening for former Ohio Senator John Glenn and his wife, Annie, and Strickland Chief of Staff John Haseley and his 8-year-old daughter. The dinner party was to be staffed by five PCI honor inmates that had been requested by Head Groundskeeper Jones – inmates Ron Reichenbach and Nicholas Hoaja as cooks and inmates Kenneth Dawson, Randy Holycross and Daniel Smith as servers.
As Senator Gillmor wisely pointed out during Senate debate, it is a little scary that John Hasley is such a terrible father that he would bring his daughter to hang around inmates. And if there was any more question about if the smuggled items were drugs or tobacco, both of these inmates with deadly-high blood alcohol levels were already busted on drug charges:
When Paul Aker first broke this story at Channel 10, he spoke to the woman who received the politically motivated “knock and talk” to keep her from going through with the crime, and she mentioned drugs, and NOT tobacco.
After vigorously defending a program allowing inmates to work at the Governor’s Residence during a long-running controversy involving an aborted contraband sting at the Bexley mansion in January, Gov. Ted Strickland suspended the program today after learning an inmate consumed alcohol while working there today.
It was well established that inmates at the Governor’s mansion had easy access to alcohol, and was widely assumed that an inmate fell through a window was drinking. Strickland repeatedly denied that alcohol consumption took place, despite all evidence to the contrary AND Strickland’s prior work as a prison psychologist where he had to become acutely aware of how often inmates attempt to break rules.
There’s the Ohio governor, who upon being elected to the job, called reappointed Inspector General Tom Charles to his job and called him a man of integrity and accountability.
Since then, Charles has handled, admirably, investigations into disgraced former Attorney General Marc Dann, a probe of database information taken from an intern’s car and allegations that the Ohio Highway Patrol was not properly ticketing its own. And that’s just naming a few.
Based on those probes, Strickland had no problem when Charles began a probe into a canceled contraband sting at the governor’s residence in January. In fact, Strickland told a reporter he believed Charles would conduct a fair investigation and could be impartial.
That was, until the report came out.
When that report said then-public safety director Cathy Collins-Taylor was less than truthful when discussing her role in calling off the sting, a different side of Strickland appeared.
Suddenly, the governor was questioning the investigation and “strongly” rejected Charles’ recommendation. He stood by silently as Democrats attacked Charles’ character by saying he was upset because his wife, a highway patrol captain, didn’t get the top job at the patrol.
The governor also has been oddly silent as Collins-Taylor’s attorney said Charles should be investigated and other Democrats piled on.
Finally, instead of focusing on key changes that could help restore some integrity to the embattled public safety agencies involved in this mess, Strickland seems more content on picking a fight. In a spiteful move, he gave Collins-Taylor a job on the state parole board — a final nose-thumbing toward legislators.
All of which leads to a huge gap in credibility for Strickland and his re-election bid. Is he the guy who likes Tom Charles and trusts his decisions? Or the one who only likes Charles’ decisions when they go his way?
Yesterday’s Senate hearing was a disgraceful display of ugly partianship by Senate Democrats. Unable to convince Republicans that Collins-Taylor, who called off a drug sting at the Governor’s mansion and who has been accused of lying under oath by an Inspector General with impeccable integrity, they resorted to name calling, cheap shots, and even crying on the floor of the Senate.
Senator Capri Cafaro ends her floor speech by suggesting that rejecting Collins-Taylor might send a message to young women that they should not become police officers. And Senator Shirley Smith, an eccentric drama queen, was visibly shaken and tearing up, accusing Republicans of simply scoring political points during an election year.
If any Republicans were playing politics, it was Senator Kevin Koughlin, fresh off his his recent efforts to bash John Kasich and glowing from endless newspaper endorsements for his creepy-crawly statist proposal to regulate the health of school lunches, is term limited and desperately seeking an appointment by Gov. Strickland. He may take over the organization that Rocky Saxbe, the lawyer who gave Collins-Taylor an undisclosed discount for his services, started in 2006, “Republicans for Strickland.”
What is most alarming is that Gov. Strickland’s hyper-political administration already had a new job lined up for Collins-Taylor on the Ohio Parole Board. And this is to be expected, as Collins-Taylor’s husband, Mike, runs the Fraternal Order of Police and Strickland would like to maintain that organization’s public support, even though privately there are serious battles happening inside the FOP after their letter to support Collins-Taylor was written without proper board approval.
Gov. Strickland’s administration also gave a minor slap on the wrist to the corrupt top attorney for the Ohio Department of Public Safety Josh Engel, after he conspired to leak a classified Department of Homeland Security document to the Inspector General, in hopes that the IG would release it and thus be prosecuted federally. What was his punishment? Some time off from work and a tiny pay cut.
What is great fun about the internal investigations about the serious, credible allegations against Engel is that the report is sent to Larry McCarthey. Who is Larry? He was convicted on corruption charges while shaking down public contractors for Gov. Dick Celeste. Yeah… That guy is really going to clean house at the ODPS!
So to review, Collins-Taylor gets a new job, Engel gets a minor demotion, but State Highway Patrol officer Major Booker, after 33 years of exceptional service, gets canned from his job 2 weeks before his retirement after accusations were made that he leaked information about the politically motivated calling-off of a drug sting at the Governor’s mansion.
Gov. Strickland learned from the errors of Gov. Taft, and changed procedures so investigations such as these always end up going through the Governor’s office so they can be analyzed and covered up by dirt-bag legal eagles such as Kent Markus. This is Gov. Strickland exposed for raw politics and corruption of the highest order. Strickland’s actions are shameless, and this story is far from over.
I remember posting this exciting video from Marc Kovac in February, but now that I’m slowly reading through the large pile of testimony, I think this has new significance:
Here is the relevent transcript (starts at about the 2:00 mark):
Paul Aker: At that point, did the correctional institute at Pickaway say that they were concerned about safety, and perhaps you directed that nothing should change?
Gov. Strickland: uh, Let me tell you that no one from the correctional institute has ever indicated to me any concern about safety. And, if they indicated that to you I’m just curious as to why they would indicate it to you but not to me.
Aker: Did you ever tell anyone not to change any protocols at the mansion regarding safety?
Strickland: Regarding safety? Uh, tell me what sort of safety protocols you’re talking about.
Aker: Well, after the gentlman fell through the window as I understand it, there was quite a meeting that went on between various leaders of safety and other leaders at the patrol and the DRC- and it came to your attention and you directed that- No, in fact the program should remain as it is.
Strickland: You’re talking about things that I have no knowledge of. You need to be more specific with me- When you say there were meetings, what was discussed at those meetings? In regards to safety, what do you mean by safety concerns?
Aker: I guess, specifically, did you ever tell anyone not to change any protocols?
Strickland: What protocols?
Aker: Not to change the program- to leave it just as it is.
Strickland: Listen, this program started under Gov. James Rhodes, and it has continued pretty much unchanged since the Rhodes administration. It’s a good program. It’s provides a great benefit to the state of Ohio and saves the state of Ohio significant sums of money. And, if you will bring me a specific protocol that I did or did not ask to be changed I will respond to you.
But on pages 23-24 of 66 of Major Robert Booker’s interview with the Inspector General’s office, it is quite clear that Ted Strickland found out about such a meeting, and while in transit to the State House had his driver return him to the Mansion to demand no changes are made, even after serious concerns about safety were raised:
Inspector General’s office: Regarding Lt. Mannion, throughout the time period he’s been the commander of the EPU, has he ever expressed concerns to you about an operational issues through the chain of command?
Booker: I think he might have I’m trying to remember. When we had this inmate injury [sic] himself back in 2008, we gathered together a meeting to discuss inmate supervision ’cause that was a concern. We have no one from DRC on grounds to supervise these inmates. It’s all left to the DAS employee, the residence manager. And what had occurred was this inmate had to be transported, we only had one Trooper on grounds. That Trooper could not abandon his post to transport this inmate. So it was left with Bexley P.D. So the concern that we had was okay, let’s get the people around the table. Let’s talk about these issues, about supervision; what we can do about it. So we called a meeting: S/Lt. Danny Springs who was at that time over Capital Operations which includes the Statehouse, EPU and the residence; myself, Sgt. Yolder-Ma— uh, huh.. I’m trying to think…
Booker: Yes. The Warden of– at Pickaway Correctional Institution, I believe is Al Lazarus. And there may have been others there. But we’re in the dining room at the Governor’s residence and we’re talking about this. We’re talking about this issue and what we can do for the security and what can we do in regards to protocols, notification; if we have someone injured, who gets the call, what do they do? What’s going on? Lt. Mannion was not a part of the meeting but he expressed concerns (inaudible) that same end. And he and the Governor departed the residence on the way to the Statehouse. While in transit, the Governor departed the residence on the way to the Statehouse. While in transit, the Governor asked questions about okay, “what’s this meeting about?” “Well, talking about the inmate program.” “Inmate program?” They turned around and came right back and the Governor talked to us about how important this inmate program was and it’s very, very important for the rehabilitation of the inmates, and he doesn’t want to see anything happen to this program. And, of course, he was not aware totally that we were talking about security and protocols. And he left and I met with him and I says, “Governor, we were talking about security issues in regards to supervision of inmates.” He said, “Well, I think the program should stay exactly the way it is.” That’s what he said. I sad, “Fine. Alright, no change. No change in the program.” I went back into the room and that’s what I told everyone there at that meeting that we’re going to keep it the way it is; that in regards to supervision the residence manager would still be responsible for the inmates.
Obviously Major Booker wouldn’t lie about such a meeting, as there are far too many people named as being part of the meeting and it’s easy to verify. So why wouldn’t Gov. Strickland remember such a dramatic turn-around on his way to the office to stop a meeting about the inmate program safety rules?
And, more importantly, why would it be so terrible to have increased safety when there are inmates involved? Clearly, contraband was being smuggled through the Governor’s mansion… but with their close proximity to alcohol, hammers, torches, razors, et cetera- Why would the Governor of Ohio focus so much attention on such a program? Just what is he hiding?
After his meeting with Chief Legal Counsel of Dept. of Public Safety Josh Engle, Earl Mack- who is the Department Director at the Ohio Department of Homeland Security- was so disturbed that he wrote down the following notes:
March 8, 2010
At 12 noon I met with Josh at the Snipley building to travel to lunch. I drove my personal vehicle. I selected to eat at Banana Bean Cafe’ located at 340 Greenlawn Ave., in Columbus. We arrived somewhere around 12:20 PM.
As Josh and I talked on the way to the cafe’, we discussed several personal and work issues. As we traveled closer to the cafe’, Josh made reference to my truck having everything in it and said it probable records too. I responded, not today, in a jokingly manner.
Josh then made reference to the Governor’s Mansion. I stated there were security haps that were found with concerns of prisoner access. As Josh talked, he stated he knows some of the report is confidential, and would not want me to talk about it if I was uncomfortable. Josh then made reference to his having a secret clearance and it could be shared with him.
We then discussed a little about the Inspector General’s investigation and his request for the report. I advised Josh we could not release the report to him. I then voiced my concerns of why the IG was conducting an investigation anyway and that in m opinion it is a conflict of interest. Josh advised that the Governor’s office was allowing the IG to conduct the investigation and he agreed with me………
As I parked in the lot of the cafe’, Josh sad, “If you can leak the report to the IG I can set him up. If he leaks the report, you can sick the Feds on him.” I reiterated to Josh I cannot provide the report to the IG. He then made reference to how the IG was making it difficult for him. Josh made reference to how much his children meant to him and when he arrives home they help him to forget what is happening. We continued some small talk and personal family discussions.
I am most concern with what I perceived as Josh asking me to engage in a scheme to set the IG up with the release of the report to him.
When I returned to the office, I discussed my conversation with Josh with David and Dan. I do not know what I will do from this point.
If true, it’s a brilliant plan for a hyper-political administration like Governor Strickland’s to destroy an Inspector General who was once held by the Governor in the highest regard. The plan was to leak a report, and if Charles used and released it himself, he would have committee a serious crime. Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to be vicious.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Department of Public Safety director Cathy Collins-Taylor says she is ready for her confirmation hearings before the Ohio Senate that start Wednesday, but she hopes to get a fair shot at arguing for her job.
“I’d like to think I’m going to get a fair hearing,” Collins-Taylor said Tuesday. “I don’t have a whole lot of confidence based upon past hearings and the antics leading into this week.”
Collins-Taylor has reason to worry since the release of a report last month from Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles that concluded Collins-Taylor, a 31-year law enforcement veteran, lied about her involvement in a decision to cancel a patrol investigation at the governor’s mansion in January.
“I’m appalled. I’m offended. And I would call the report an opinion. That’s all it is. And I am outraged by it,” Collins-Taylor said in her first public comments since the report was released. She said the report is filled with inaccuracies easily dispelled by transcripts of interviews the inspector general’s office conducted and other evidence it did not consider.
Charles stands by his investigators’ a probe into Collins-Taylor’s handling of the canceled January police sting at Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s suburban Columbus home.
I’m in the committee hearing room now, sitting a few rows away from Cathy’s lawyer, Rocky Saxbee. Son of Nixon’s Attorney General, he made his fortune with Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s unconstitutional lawsuit against the tobacco
Paul Aker, the talented investigative reporter from Channel 10, had a fascinating update on the 11pm news last night. This story of corruption is getting worse by the day for Gov. Strickland and Kent Markus:
A former Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent said yesterday he and former colleagues are concerned that investigatory decisions are being increasingly influenced and politicized by the Strickland administration.
Former Col. Richard Collins, who was asked to resign along with his boss last year by Gov. Ted Strickland to resolve what was described as personality conflicts, told a Senate committee that December’s decision to scuttle a planned sting at the governor’s residence fits the pattern.
“I think we have a responsibility to stay independent,” said Mr. Collins, who spent more than 31 years with the patrol, six of them as commander of the patrol’s Findlay District.
“We offer, as we have other administrations, to provide overviews of criminal cases that we were involved in, but as far as how we proceed with those investigations, how we work with local elected prosecutors … that’s our responsibility, not the responsibility of the civilian authority, the lawyers, and the legal section,” he said.
The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee is holding hearings looking generally into allegations of interference by civilian officials in highway patrol investigations and specifically the decision to call off the sting at the governor’s mansion meant to catch someone in the act of slipping contraband to an inmate working there to convey back to the prison.
It remains unclear what the contraband was, although conjecture among officials has ranged from drugs to tobacco.
“Regardless of what that was or was not, once we knew that some kind of transaction was going to take place, I think it was the highway patrol’s responsibility to intervene,” Mr. Collins said.
He said that if he were still head of the highway patrol at the time, that sting would have proceeded as planned.
Superiors had raised safety concerns, questioning the wisdom of allowing the apparent transaction to take place on the grounds of the governor’s home. Ultimately, the woman who was planning the drop was tipped off.
“Would the Secret Service allow a package to be thrown over the White House wall if they didn’t know what it was?” Sen. Nina Turner (D., Cleveland) asked.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), said he “intends to use the full investigatory powers of this committee to get to the bottom of what I believe is a growing stack of evidence that politics is overcoming public safety.”
Mr. Collins was promoted to superintendent by Henry Guzman, Mr. Strickland’s first director of public safety, with whom Mr. Collins admitted yesterday he often disagreed. The governor ultimately asked both for their resignations.
And in related news, Randy Ludlow at The Dispatch reports that Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe has questions for lobbyist Thomas Fries about his contract for The Anchor Companies, which is known for their hiring of illegal immigrants:
The office’s lawyer sent a letter to Fries yesterday inquiring about his lobbying on behalf of The Anchor Companies and the potential need to amend his registration and activity statements.
Fries, a long-time lobbyist and friend with Gov. Ted Strickland, began lobbying for the company on July 23, 2008, when he met with Kent Markus, the governor’s chief legal counsel. Yet, Fries did not disclose that activity to Bledsoe’s office.
Fries did not reveal he was lobbying the governor’s office on Anchor’s behalf until Sept. 10, 2008, when he and an Anchor lawyer filled out lobbyist registration statement.The statement arrived in Bledsoe’s office nine days later.
The Columbus real-state company had been accused of filing falsified records with the state to hide the non-payment of prevailing wages and the hiring of illegal immigrants to remodel a state-leased office building at 770 W. Broad St. for use as the state prison offices.
The SAME DAY Fries filled out his registration requirement, Ted Strickland’s super-duper lawyer who has been at the center of a handful of corrupt situations, met with State Highway investigators to question the Patrol’s jurisdiction in the matter. This was the Strickland Administration so intent on paying off political supporters that they were willing to actively involve themselves in tipping off criminals of a forthcoming drug sting.