Two criminal investigations alleging possible voter fraud and embezzlement are lingering from 2006, and local law enforcement officials say they're not sure when the probes will be completed. One investigation involves a dispute between newly elected State Rep. Dale Mallory (D-West End) and the West End Community Council. The other probe involves State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Mount Lookout) and questions about whether signatures were intentionally forged on an aborted petition drive seeking to overturn the city's Human Rights Ordinance.
In each investigation — the Cincinnati Police Department in the former, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office in the latter — officials say the matters involved are so complicated that they require extra time and effort, and they wouldn't estimate when the inquiries would be completed.
People who lodged the complaints that sparked the investigations, however, say the allegations depend on a fairly straightforward series of facts that should be easily discernable if they have any merit.
In May 2006, Dale Mallory wrote checks totaling $1,119 that emptied the West End Community Council's bank account, which occurred more than three months after his impeachment as the group's president and a few weeks after his lawsuit seeking reinstatement was dropped. Mallory has said the money was for an arts program at the YMCA that the council had authorized in February, but community council leaders said no vote was ever taken. The council filed a complaint in June with Cincinnati Police, alleging embezzlement.
A month later, Police Lt. Col. James Whalen told the council that the Mallory investigation was turned over to the FBI to avoid a possible conflict of interest; Mallory's brother, Mayor Mark Mallory, has oversight responsibility for the Police Department.
FBI agents, though, later said the allegations didn't involve enough money to merit their involvement and handed the case back to police. It's now been more than 230 days since the bank account was closed.
Police Lt. Steve Kramer, the department's major fraud investigations commander, is handling the investigation. Lt. Tom Lanter, a department spokesman, last week described the probe as "a long-term investigation that is ongoing."
"It's apparently pretty complex and pretty involved," Lanter said. "(Kramer) couldn't even give me an estimation on when they'll be bringing that to a resolution."
Some community council members who have copies of the cancelled checks signed by Mallory are angry that it's taken so long for police to respond, calling it "an open and shut case."
Meanwhile, the prosecutor's office launched an investigation in August 2006 into forged signatures and the alteration of more than 1,000 addresses on referendum petitions circulated by a group affiliated with Citizens for Community Values (CCV) in the group's efforts to overturn a Cincinnati law that gives anti-discrimination protection to gays and lesbians. The CCV-related group collected more than 14,000 signatures, but about half were immediately dismissed by election officials as ineligible. That left the group with 7,656 signatures, just two more than legally required to put a referendum on the ballot. Of those, more than 1,300 were facing a legal challenge by the law's backers, Citizens to Restore Fairness.
The law's supporters alleged that the manner in which addresses were changed proves a systemic effort by the CCV-related group, not the actions of a lone circulator as the group claimed. Addresses were marked out and replaced with new ones on 1,016 of the signatures collected by the group. The addresses that were changed were for signers who lived outside Cincinnati city limits and were replaced by addresses for people who live within the city and have the same or similar names. That type of effort could only come from someone comparing the names with the rolls of registered voters, according to Gary Wright, a Citizens to Restore Fairness leader.
In a column written by Peter Bronson of The Cincinnati Enquirer after the petitions were withdrawn, Brinkman admitted he was to be paid $60,000 by the CCV-related group if the petition drive were successful and nothing if it weren't. Also, Brinkman was advanced $40,000 to coordinate the effort, he told Bronson. During the campaign, the group refused to identify who received the $40,000 when it filed required disclosure forms with state officials, citing First Amendment concerns.
The group has blamed its ballot problems on "a pro-homosexual 'mole' that got in and tried to sabotage these petitions," according to the conservative Christian newspaper Citizen USA.
Jennifer Irey, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said the probe is ongoing. "It's still actively under investigation at this time," Irey says.
She didn't know when the inquiry might be completed.
President Bush's escalation of the U.S. war on Iraq, announced last week, brought more than 100 people onto the streets of Northside in protest. Responding to a call by Moveon.org, people reported to Hoffner Park Jan. 11 with signs and chants. Protesters also held anti-war signs for the benefit of rush-hour commuters in Finneytown.
For updates on the growing local anti-war movement, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at citybeat.wordpress.com.
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