Prosecutor drops GOP signature fraud caseWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuyahoga County Special Prosecuting Attorney James A. Gutierrez released a report Feb. 26 in which he stated, “criminal prosecution is not appropriate” in the GOP signature fraud investigation.
Gutierrez reported that while Lucas County Republican Party Oversight Committee Chairwoman Kelly Bensman admitted to filling out a campaign finance form and signing the name of LCRP Treasurer James Damas, she and LCRP Chairman Jon Stainbrook “were under the impression they could sign the form … and they had express permission by James Damas to sign the forms.”
Gutierrez also reported, “Since Stainbrook and Bensman completed the act in the open and obvious circumstance [witnessed by a Lucas County Board of Elections employee] would give rise to the inference that Stainbrook and Bensman intention was not to deceive the BOE that Damas actually signed the document … to say that Stainbrook and Bensman intent was to deceive or defraud the BOE under these facts is dubious at best.”
The case was sent to Cleveland on Oct. 26 after Lucas County Chief Investigator Frank Stiles concluded his investigation. A decision to turn his investigation to date over to a special prosecutor was made by the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest. It was determined the allegations from the BOE involving the Republican Party could cause a conflict of interest since the board of elections is a client of the prosecutor’s office.
Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller sent a letter to the Lucas County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State on July 30, alerting them to potential inconsistencies among signatures on Lucas County GOP campaign finance reports and other official documents. The apparent inconsistencies came to light as the result of research conducted by Lisa Renee Ward, operator of Glass City Jungle.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, section 3517.10, “The statement of contributions and expenditures shall be signed by the person completing the form.” Under Ohio law, according to the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, “A fifth-degree felony conviction [of election falsification] may result in a prison sentence of six to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500.