Former Ohio official guilty:

Ex-CFO of workers' comp admits laundering money, taking gifts.
He'll cooperate in probe

Dennis J. Willard
Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio) (KRT)
June 8, 2006

Jun. 8--COLUMBUS -- Waiving a trial and promising to cooperate in an ongoing state and federal investigation, former Bureau of Workers' Compensation Chief Financial Officer Terrence W. Gasper pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of money laundering and failing to report 150 incidents of receiving free meals, travel, sports tickets and entertainment over several years.

Gasper's plea is the latest development in an extensive corruption probe that threatens to shake the longtime Republican grip on Ohio government in a statewide election year.

Flanked by two attorneys, Gasper said "my plea is guilty, your honor," after Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Guy Reese listed the charges against the man who once oversaw the bureau's $19 billion investment portfolio.

His plea in Columbus followed a federal court appearance earlier in the day in Akron before U.S. District Judge David Dowd where Gasper pleaded guilty to a single count of racketeering for accepting money, a Florida condominium and gifts from others who wanted contracts for investment opportunities with the state's huge fund for injured workers.

Dowd spent more than an hour going over Gasper's agreement with the federal authorities, before finally asking Gasper for his plea.

"I plead guilty, your honor," he replied.

The terms of the agreement are not being released until after Gasper is sentenced, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Benita Pearson said after the hearing that the bureau's losses and Gasper's illegal gains totaled $20 million to $50 million.

Origin of scheme

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Gasper admitted that he and Tom Noe, a Republican fundraiser at the epicenter of a bureau investment scandal, hatched a plan over dinner at a Columbus restaurant in March 2001. The men agreed to disguise a $25,000 payment to Gasper to secure a second $25 million contract for Noe to invest in rare coins and collectibles, O'Brien said.

Noe disguised the money as an investment in a company run by Gasper's girlfriend, but when investigators raided the coin collector's Maumee, Ohio, home last year, they found documents that indicated the $25,000 ended up in Gasper's hands.

The $25 million unbid contract was approved in July 2001.

Gasper was also cashing in on perks in his job, but did not disclose the freebies on annual financial disclosure statements filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The state money-laundering charge is a third-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $10,000 fine. Failing to disclose the freebies, which is an ethics violation, is a first-degree misdemeanor with a possible six-month sentence and $1,000 fine.

Judge Reese set a Nov. 9 sentencing hearing to give Gasper time to cooperate with a joint task force that has been probing bureau investments.

On the federal charges, Gasper faces a sentence of five years and 10 months to seven years and three months. But Dowd noted that he is free to sentence Gasper to more or less time in prison if he believes it is appropriate.

In the federal case, Gasper agreed to plead guilty to an information -- a document agreed to by Gasper and prosecutors -- which detailed his crimes. In doing so, Gasper agreed to plead guilty without having the case presented to a grand jury and without going to trial.

Racketeering acts

The charge includes four specific racketeering acts that took place between November 1998 and October 2004. They include three acts of extortion for taking money, a Florida condominium and college tuition payments for his son, and other gifts. Two investment brokers, a securities marketer and a rare coin dealer provided the gifts in exchange for them being allowed to invest bureau money.

The fourth racketeering act is that Gasper used the mail and phone lines to carry out his scheme.

Though not named in the information, the coin dealer has been identified as Noe, whose failed investments of bureau money sparked the yearlong scandal and investigation.

The investigation also led to ethics charges against Ohio Gov. Bob Taft last summer for failing to report gifts from Noe. Four Taft aides have pleaded guilty. Noe faces state charges in the investment scheme and recently pleaded guilty to federal charges that he illegally funneled campaign donations to President Bush's re-election campaign through a host of other Toledo-area Republicans.

Dowd agreed to place under seal the names of the unnamed persons who were part of the racketeering enterprise.

Gasper declined to comment to reporters following the Akron hearing and managed to leave the courthouse without exiting the front door -- bypassing a throng of photographers and television cameras.

In Columbus, Franklin Prosecutor O'Brien said at a press conference that Gasper has an obligation and a motivation to cooperate with investigators, and that more federal and state charges will come soon against unnamed targets of the task force investigation.

O'Brien acknowledged the investigation is ongoing during a contentious election year in which voters will decide races for all five statewide offices, including governor, but the Republican prosecutor said every lead will be chased down.

"No one will be overlooked through fear or favor," he said.

The bureau hired Gasper at the behest of Paul Mifsud, former Gov. George Voinovich's chief of staff, who died in 2000.

In 1997, Gasper was given power of attorney to approve investment contracts by bureau Administrator James Conrad, who was named to his position by Voinovich and retained by Taft until the governor forced him to resign last year.

Gregory White, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio, said 30 full-time investigators have interviewed more than 250 people, issued about 500 subpoenas and scanned more than 1 million documents for the investigation that has spanned 20 states.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, OH.

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