Former Ohio Workers’ Comp Official to Plead Guilty in Fraud Scam

June 5, 2006

The former chief financial officer of the state’s $15 billion insurance fund for injured workers will plead guilty next week to state charges alleging he traded investment opportunities for gifts.

Prosecutors say Terrence Gasper doled out the opportunities in exchange for money, college tuition for his son and stays at a Florida condominium, according to state and federal charges announced Thursday.

He is first official with the giant insurance fund to be charged in a yearlong investigation into the fund’s investment practices that shook Ohio’s Republican-dominated government and led to a historic no contest plea on ethics charges by Gov. Bob Taft.

Gasper, 59, will admit to receiving $25,000 from rare coin dealer Tom Noe as a bribe in return for doling out investment business from the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation to Noe, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said. Prosecutors allege Noe funneled the money to Gasper through Gasper’s girlfriend at the time.

Gasper also will plead guilty to state charges of failing to disclose the source of income, gifts, travel, meals and entertainment on mandatory financial disclosure forms from 1999 through 2005. He could face up to five years and six months in prison.

Gasper will enter his plea at a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, O’Brien said.

Gasper, who also is charged in federal court over the same allegations, has a hearing Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Akron. U.S. Attorney Greg White declined to say what will happen then. Gasper’s attorneys would not comment.

Noe, a prominent GOP contributor at the heart of a political scandal in Ohio, was convicted Wednesday of illegally funneling campaign dollars to President Bush’s re-election.

Court documents detailing the charges allege that Gasper took things of value such as stays at the Florida condominium from brokers, dealers and marketers who wanted “to obtain and retain lucrative OBWC investment contracts.”

The oceanfront condominium was in Islamorada, Fla., the same community where Noe had a home. It was not clear from the charges who owned the condominium where Gasper was alleged to have stayed.

The $9,000 tuition check was made out to a college attended by Gasper’s son and came from an individual described as “Marketer #1,” according to a statement released by federal authorities.

Gasper also faces state ethics charges for failing to disclose the source of income, gifts, travel, meals and entertainment on mandatory financial disclosure forms from 1999 through 2005.

A message was left with Noe’s attorney. The bureau said it was pleased with the charges.

Investigators have “delivered justice to those whose actions have hurt Ohio’s businesses and workers,” BWC administrator Bill Mabe said in a statement.

Previous investigations into Noe and bureau investments led to the no contest plea by Taft and four of his former aides on ethics violations. The investigation also led to the ouster of the bureau’s longtime administrator, the firing of its chief investment officer and an overhaul of the fund’s investment operations.

The scandal has also been a major embarrassment for Ohio’s ruling Republicans and given Democrats a better shot at winning state offices this year, including the governor’s office that the GOP has held since 1991.

Democrats praised the charges Thursday, saying they were another step in moving up the ranks to charges against higher-level workers’ compensation officials.

“Gasper knows just about all there is to know about what went on at the BWC,” said state Sen. Marc Dann, a candidate for attorney general. “He needs to tell us who these people are and he needs to tell us as soon as possible.”

But White, praising the numerous state and federal investigators who pursued the case against Gasper, indicated authorities might be close to ending their work.

“This is a giant step toward resolving the overall investment issue,” White said. “When the chief financial officer is charged with these kinds of violations, that says a lot about where the investigation is at, to the credit of all these folks.”

Previous reports had alleged Gasper tried to steer how investments were handled at the bureau. For example, the bureau’s former chief investments officer, James McLean, said Gasper had tried to keep mounting losses in a fund managed by MDL Financial Management quiet. Those losses ultimately hit $215 million.

McLean has also said Gasper told him the investment firm was “a friend of the bureau.”

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