Friday, October 22, 2004

Convicted aide still working for Deters

By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters continues to employ a campaign fund-raiser who was convicted in July of election law violations.

Campaign-finance records released Thursday show that the fund-raiser, Eric Sagun, has been paid $45,500 so far this year as a consultant and is now working on Deters' campaign for Hamilton County prosecutor.

Sagun is one of two Deters aides who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after a 14-month grand jury investigation into Deters' campaign finances.

Deters, who was not charged, has said his aides did nothing wrong and has complained that the Cleveland-based prosecutors who led the investigation came after him for political reasons.

He confirmed that Sagun is still working for him, primarily as an adviser who helps organize campaign events rather than as the person who directly solicits donations.

"He agreed to stay as my fund-raiser until this election is over," Deters said. "I just believe he didn't do anything wrong. I'm not going to punish him because of the feelings of some creeps in Cleveland."

Fanon Rucker, Deters' opponent in the prosecutor's race, has made the campaign-finance scandal a focus of his campaign. He raised the issue again this week in a hard-hitting TV ad.

Rucker declined comment on Sagun's continued employment with Deters' campaign. But Tim Burke, the county's Democratic Party chairman, said he was stunned to learn that Sagun was working for Deters.

"Joe doesn't learn," Burke said. "He is so damn arrogant. He just thinks he's above it all and can do whatever he wants."

Sagun, who could not be reached Thursday, was accused of soliciting a $50,000 donation from Cleveland broker Frank Gruttadauria in December 2001 for the Hamilton County Republican Party, when both knew the money was really intended for Deters' campaign. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election-law violation and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

Another Deters aide, Matthew Borges, was accused of giving preferential treatment in the treasurer's office to certain brokers who contributed to Deters' campaign. He pleaded guilty to one count of improper use of public office and was fined $1,000.

Deters was not charged with wrongdoing.

The special prosecutor on the case, Thomas Sammon, said last month that Deters should "apologize to the public" for the damage caused by his associates.

Deters responded by calling Sammon's investigation "garbage" and said the special prosecutor failed to prove that he or any member of his staff committed crimes. He said Sagun and Borges agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanors so they could put the investigation behind them.

In an interview two weeks ago, Deters described Sagun as "probably the most ethical fund-raiser in the state."

According to the campaign-finance reports, which Ohio law requires all candidates to file, Deters has made 13 payments of $3,500 to Sagun since January. All of the payments are labeled as "consulting-finance" costs and are drawn from Deters' campaign fund.

Deters said Sagun agreed to help him in the prosecutor's race and will leave the job when the campaign is over.

The campaign-finance reports show that both Deters and Rucker have raised large amounts of money in the five weeks since they jumped into the prosecutor's race.

Both are running as write-in candidates because they entered the race after the deadline passed for getting their names on the ballot. They are vying to replace Prosecutor Mike Allen, who withdrew from the race in the wake of a sex scandal.

Deters has raised $252,972 this year, including about $70,000 since he entered the prosecutor's race. Most of it has been spent, leaving Deters with about $81,000.

Rucker has raised $91,000 in just five weeks, including $36,000 from two out-of-state contributors. Jerome Walsh Skelly, of Louisville, gave him $26,000, and Roy Hock, of Williamsburg, Va., donated $10,000.

Neither Skelly nor Hock responded to phone messages left Thursday evening. Rucker said he does not know either man well and met them for the first time during the past month.

Deters said such large out-of-state donations are unusual, but Rucker and Burke said the contributions show that the race is of national interest.

"It just shows how many people believe in this thing," Rucker said.


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