Thursday, October 7, 2004

Prosecutor's office lambasted

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The Hamilton County commissioners ordered an investigation Wednesday into possible ethics violations by the prosecutor's office.

The action by Phil Heimlich and Todd Portune followed their discovery that Carl Stich, a top assistant prosecutor, met with attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service and the Cincinnati Bengals in May. The IRS contends the Bengals owe $14 million in taxes for the sale of seat licenses at Paul Brown Stadium, while the Bengals say any tax bill is the county's problem.

Stich said he never told the commissioners about the meeting, which was held in Chicago, because nothing was settled.

"This was the first sit-down get-together to sort of take everybody's temperature," Stich said. "... There was really nothing to report back to them."

But Heimlich said it's highly unusual for a lawyer representing the county not to notify commissioners of such a meeting.

"The idea of an attorney saying he didn't need to tell his clients he was about to negotiate with the IRS on their behalf is outrageous," he said.

Stich said that as far as he remembers, the IRS offered at the meeting to cut the tax bill in half, which was unacceptable to the Bengals. Stich said he asserted the commissioners' view that the county shouldn't have to pay any tax on the $26 million in seat-license revenue, which was used as the Bengals' contribution toward the $450 million Paul Brown Stadium.

The IRS and Bengals tentatively settled on $2 million in taxes owed. The Bengals have asked whether the county has any objections to the deal, which it expects the county to pay.

"Obviously, if there had been a proposal by the IRS that was within the realm of reality, I would have taken it back to the board,'' Stich said.

Heimlich and Portune have asked Bill Markovits, a lawyer they have retained, to investigate whether Stich or others in the prosecutor's office violated an ethical code.

Markovits said the investigation should take one to two weeks, and could result in a complaint to the state Supreme Court or the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Prosecutor Mike Allen had no comment on the matter, spokesman Jon Esther said.

The IRS meeting is the latest in a string of conflicts between the commissioners and Allen's office:

• The commissioners didn't tell Allen before voting in March to join a federal antitrust lawsuit against the Bengals and the National Football League.

• Allen, in turn, sued the commissioners in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them from hiring attorneys Stanley Chesley and Robert Furnier to represent them against the Bengals.

• Allen and Stich did not notify the commissioners of two letters they received from Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Collins on Aug. 12. The letters alleged Allen had sexually harassed Collins and named the commissioners as potential targets of a lawsuit.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office is already investigating prosecutors' handling of Collins' complaints.



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