Prosecutor Deters used forfeiture funds to pay for friend's tech consulting services

No Ohio law bans $2.2 million in no-bid contracts, use of forfeiture money to pay for IT work

Two thirds of the $2.1 million paid by the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office to a former employee’s technology companies for no-bid consulting work came from the prosecutor’s criminal forfeiture fund.

The companies are owned by Dennis Lima, who worked full-time for prosecutor Joe Deters during Deters’ first stretch in office, from 1992 to 1999. His work as an information technology consultant to the office began in 2005 after Deters began his second stint as prosecutor. Lima has had an unbroken run of one-year contracts ever since.

CityBeat reported last month that those contracts were never put up for bid. State law exempts public agencies from seeking competitive bids when hiring consultants and other professionals, such as lawyers and engineers. But Lima was more than just a consultant. He replaced and installed entire IT systems, software and databases. Hamilton County offices such as the Board of County Commissioners, the auditor and the sheriff routinely seek bids for such work.

The prosecutor’s office had given CityBeat copies of the Lima contracts, worth $2.2 million in all, but would not explain why only $694,129 was paid to Lima, his LimaCorp. and his OnLine Business Solutions by the county’s Purchasing Division. Following another public records request, Deters’ office last week supplied the documents that explained the disparity. Those documents — itemized listings of checks — showed $1.39 million going from the office’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund to the Lima companies.

State law allows for the seizure — or forfeiture — and sale of vehicles, computers and other assets used in committing crimes. Part of the resulting cash goes to county prosecutors. For the most part, the money is supposed to go to law enforcement purposes. A portion of it must go toward “community preventive education programs.”

But computer consulting? While Lima helped build an evidence tracking system and a sexual offenders database, much of his work went toward employee benefits systems, website improvement and tracking civil cases.

Still, nothing in Ohio law precludes prosecutors from spending dirty money on upgrading their tech. It says forfeiture money can be spent on “other law enforcement purposes” that the prosecutor “determines to be appropriate.” In 1989, the Ohio Attorney General’s office was asked if LETF money could be used to buy and maintain “equipment and resource materials.” It gave a thumbs-up, even if only because it didn’t want to impose on the spending discretion bestowed on local officials by the Ohio General Assembly.

The brunt of the work done by the Lima companies for the prosecutor’s office took place before 2010, when Lima filed personal bankruptcy. Since then, his OnLine Business Solutions has received contracts valued at $95,000 per year for maintenance, software updates, system integration and “minimal new development,” all on an “as directed” basis.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter


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