Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Hamilton audiotape finding: inconclusive

Machine or human error blamed

By Janice Morse and Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The great City Council audiotape caper is over.

        A crime report released Tuesday said there was an “inconclusive” ending to the police probe of a cassette tape that turned up blank, instead of recording discussions that occurred during a sometimes-contentious April 5 council meeting.

        The criminal investigation was launched April 7 after Vice Mayor Tom Nye filed a complaint with police, alleging possible tampering with records, a violation of Ohio law.

        During the meeting, Mr. Nye had been involved in some heated exchanges with Councilman George McNally. Each had accused the other of making personally defamatory remarks; both threatened to take legal action.

        So Mr. Nye said he thought it was “curious” when he learned the meeting's tape was blank.

        He had conceded it was possible that the tape recorder had malfunctioned but said he still wanted the matter investigated.

        “There is no evidence to prove or disprove the tape was tampered with,” Lt. Steve Isgro, investigations commander, said in a report dated Aug. 31.

        Lt. Isgro reached that conclusion after interviewing all seven council members and three city employees and consulting an independent tape-recording examiner.

        “I found no detectable intelligence on either side of the tape,” said John W. Hull of Columbus, who has 35 years' experience in audio recording and has evaluated tape recordings in many court cases. “The only thing recorded was the background noise of the recording device.”

        Mr. Hull told Lt. Isgro that the noise, which was consistent throughout the tape, could have had three possible causes: The recorder's volume control was set on zero; the machine malfunctioned; or the tape was erased.

        The FBI had declined to analyze the tape and/or its recorder, Lt. Isgro's report says.

        An agent told him that was because the FBI has a significant workload and considered the case “a low priority.”

        Fingerprinting tests on the cassette would have ruined the tape, so investigators decided not to take those steps, the report says.

        Councilman Dick Holzberger said he is more than happy with the results of the investigation. He guessed that the tape is blank as the result of a mechanical or human error.

        “I am sorry that we had to get two law enforcement agencies involved,” Mr. Holzberger said. “I feel it was truly a political gain between several political members of council. I hope this childish behavior ceases and desists.”

        Mr. McNally called the incident “a tempest in a teapot.”

        “There was no issue to investigate to begin with. The damn machine malfunctioned,” he said.


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