It would have been nice if Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien had done this BEFORE the election.  However, he finally confirmed what we’ve long said:  There’s wasn’t much of a there, there.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the whipped-up scandal that dominated months of the Dispatch’s front pages, leading to a flawed Ohio Inspector General’s investigation and report, a highly partisan and politicized “confirmation” hearing by a State Senate committee, and was featured in an RGA ad in the Governor’s race at the time ends with nothing more than a letter and one misdemeanor criminal case:

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien wrote a letter this week to Inspector General Thomas P. Charles informing him that the review was completed and that "no other criminal charges are contemplated at the present time."

O’Brien’s office began investigating the matter after receive Ohio Inspector General Thomas Charles’ investigatory report seven months ago.  That’s a long time for a county prosecutor to decide simply whether to refer the matter to the grand jury for felonies—especially when that decision is ultimately no.

O’Brien’s letter, though, is noteworthy in that it clearly concludes that many of the allegations made by Charles’ office lacked sufficient evidence to pursue criminally.

  • Despite Charles’ allegations to the contrary, O’Brien apparently concluded there was not sufficient evidence to allege that former Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Cathy Collins-Taylor committed criminal perjury or obstruction of justice.
  • Same thing with Highway Patrol Superintendent/Col. Dicken.
  • Conservative bloggers’ fantasies of this “reaching to the top” and ensnarling the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, Kent Markus, in some felony conspiracy are entirely dashed.
  • Nobody apparently seriously examined if former Patrol officers like Capt. Henderson or Maj. Booker committed perjury during their pre-confirmation testimony in front of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (chaired by Senator Tom Grendell (R)) when they testified there was no doubt that the alleged contraband to be “dropped” on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion to be picked up by an inmate work crew was drugs, even though Charles’ own investigation found literally a “heap” of physical evidence that tobacco smuggling (which is not a crime) was going on instead and internal Patrol documents at the time showed there was doubt about what precisely the nature of the alleged contraband would be.

At best, after eleven months of investigations, a political show trial called a Senate committee confirmation hearing, and one breathless front-page story after another from the Dispatch, only one person was ever criminally charged or prosecuted in the entire matter—former Public Safety Chief Legal Counsel Joshua Engel—and he wasn’t even prosecuted regarding the decision to cancel the SWAT team-like “sting” at the Governor’s Mansion.  And he pled guilty only to second-degree misdemeanors.  A crime less serious than shoplifting in Ohio.  And what punishment did the criminal justice system inflict on Engel?  Pay $750 in fines and pay court costs…. NEXT!

And what exactly was Engel’s crime?  He admitted to get the agency’s IT department to set it up so he’d automatically see any agency e-mails between the IG’s office and any employee of the agency.  This, O’Brien’s office contended constituted the crime of “disclosure of confidential Inspector General information.”

I’m not defending what Engel did, but where was the six months of investigations by O’Brien as to how Paul Aker of WBNS Channel 10 in Columbus was literally waving in his hand a copy of the confidential Inspector General’s report and reading from it, on air, the day before that report was supposed to go public?  Wasn’t that, too, a violation of the same criminal statute? 

I’ve become so jaded, so cynical while watching this farce–in seeing O’Brien’s office appearing as if they were intentionally dragging this investigation out because having the prospect and speculation as to the outcome was more politically juicy than the predetermined outcome, leaking their own investigation like an unprecedented sieve, seemingly timing the move against Engel right before the election,  all of it that I’m not convinced that O’Brien’s letter today might have been different had less than 50,000 Kasich votes gone Strickland’s way instead.

Thomas Charles’ office still hasn’t issued the final report on Coingate… some five years later.

But we just spent the past year investigating the hell out of the nonexistent crime of inmates trying to smuggle in tobacco for no other reason than the inmates decided to use the Governor’s Mansion as the drop off point during a campaign year.  After numerous careers of dedicated and honorable public servants were dragged through the mud publicly, we learn that a Republican county prosecutor believes there’s not enough evidence to even charge them with the crimes that Thomas Charles and his friends in the Dispatch had publicly suggested they committed.

After eleven months of this nonsense, Ron O’Brien’s office could find no criminal conspiracy that “went to the top.”  Instead, he found one former government lawyer violated a statute that is being selectively enforced… and is a less serious offense than shoplifting.  Not surprising, today’s story was not the above the fold front page story Troopergate regularly got in the Dispatch.

The reaction to it all seems rather ridiculously disproportionate and tragic.

 
  • Victoria_ullmann

    This was one of the most absurd political antics in the silly season this year. It was clearly driven by the Dispatch. Police fail to prosecute these small crimes all the time, which Ron O’Brien is well aware. I work with his prosecutors and see it all the time. His handling of this is really disgraceful. Marcus did a pitiful job at damage control but since no one did anything illegal with regard to the stupid sting, of course they could find no wrongdoing on his part or anyone else’s except Engel’s which was tangential to the event itself.

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