Thursday, July 27, 2000

Norwood mayor facing charges

Hochbein says he's never betrayed trust

By Walt Schaefer and Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — A Hamilton County grand jury Wednesday issued a 14-count indictment against Mayor Joe Hochbein, accusing him of theft in office and falsifying records.

        The two-term Republican mayor said he is innocent and told Norwood citizens he has “never done anything to violate the trust that you have placed in me. And, that is the truth, or may I never see God in the face.”

        If convicted on all charges, he could face a possible sentence of 34 years in jail. He will be arraigned in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Aug. 4. Mr. Hochbein is free on his own recognizance.

        The indictment includes:

        • Four charges of falsification (lying or making a false statement to steal property or cash).

        • Nine counts of theft in office.

        • One count of election falsification (lying to an election official about an official matter).

        The charges involve incidents that allegedly occurred between Aug. 23, 1996, and Jan. 27, 1999.

        Mr. Hochbein is accused of improperly using a city employee or employees to do work for a private function, the 1999 Norwood Car Show. He also is accused of using city money for the annual car show conducted by the mayor and a committee of supporters. It is not considered a city-sponsored event, officials have said.

        Part of the investigation involves a $150 check from the car show sent to Victory 2000, a campaign committee for the Norwood Republican Party. City Treasurer Tim Molony has said the scope of the investigation is broader, but he declined to elaborate.

        The indictment was announced by special prosecutor David Parker, who said it culminates a yearlong investigation spearheaded by Hamilton County Sheriff's Detective Bryan Pitchford.

        Mr. Parker, a Cincinnati lawyer, was appointed as special prosecutor after Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said it would be inappropriate for his office to be involved. Mr. Allen is a former Hamilton County Republican chairman and had associated with Mr. Hochbein in GOP activities.

        While the indictment was being announced Wednesday, Norwood residents and officials were celebrating Norwood Day at Coney Island.

        Jane Grote, a Republican and City Council president, was managing a bingo game when told of the indictment. She would serve as interim mayor if Mr. Hochbein steps down.

        “I don't have any specifics,” Ms. Grote said, “but I don't think he should resign. He has been a strong supporter of Norwood. He has been very energetic and enthusiastic about getting development and street repairs.”

        Norwood Law Director Vicki Garry, a Republican who has been critical of the Hochbein administration, urged the mayor to resign.

        “Under the circumstances, as I understand them, his resignation would be best for the city.”

        Among supporters were Chuck Wise, district representative for Norwood Soccer. “We used to go to the soccer fields and the grass would be so tall, you could bale hay. Since Mayor Hochbein ... the grass is cut, fields have been improved. The parks are lighted. They are easy for seniors and the handicapped to get to.”

        Victor Edwards, president of Norwood Soccer, said, “When I see what he has done, it is more impressive to me than hearing that he has done something wrong.”

        The mayor is the city's second official to recently face charges. Last year, former city Police Chief Timothy Brown was convicted of falsifying a report in an effort to cover up his own drunk-driving accident in December 1998. Mr. Brown, a Norwood police officer for 25 years, was allowed to retire after his misdemeanor conviction.

        Despite it all, the city of 24,000 continues to grow and its image is changing from that of a largely blue-collar town to a newly found haven for young professionals to live and work. Jobs and business starts have rapidly increased. Commercial and office development has mushroomed. Housing stock is generally good, improving and affordable.

        Mr. Hochbein insists there is a legitimate explanation for the check. He would not divulge the reason, citing advice of counsel.

        Mr. Parker declined to divulge how much in taxpayer resources are involved in the investigation and said he will release no more information until documents containing more details are filed with the court.

        Mr. Hochbein does not have to relinquish his office because of the charges.


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