Report leaves questions unansweredWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Something is still wrong.
On July 21, when I first noticed that the signatures for Lucas County Republican Party Treasurer James Damas did not match on several campaign finance reports, I had no idea what was going to happen. All I knew was something was wrong. As Toledo Free Press reported on July 30, Ohio Secretary of State Press Secretary Jeff Ortega said only a party treasurer or deputy treasurer may sign financial documents; no one may sign by proxy.
My main question was the same from the very first day: Who signed the financial reports for the Lucas County Republican Party? At first it appeared things were moving along. I was contacted by Frank Stiles, an investigator for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s office at the end of August 2009.
On Oct. 26 I learned the signature fraud case was handed over to a special prosecutor from Cuyahoga County. I was told that I would be contacted and I would be interviewed again.
On Nov. 18 I had my first conversation with James Gutierrez, the special prosecutor assigned from Cuyahoga County.
I regularly deal with people who don’t like or trust blogs, so his comment to me that blogs were “crap,” they had “no credibility,” that it was like the “wild wild west with no responsibility,” invoked my “I’m not that kind of a blogger” argument.
He then gave kind of a laugh and said, “a blogger with credibility; now that’s an oxymoron.” Gutierrez shared quite a bit of his beliefs during that cell phone conversation. He did not think either political party was worthwhile, stating he was an independent. The media has a liberal bias, he believes, and CNN and FOX News do not give him news, only talking points.
The impression that he did not think the signature fraud case was an important one was hard to shake. Gutierrez made it clear he was not driving back and forth from Toledo to Cleveland often, stating that was a waste of time.
During my December interview, Gutierrez kept focusing on how I discovered the signatures did not match. He asked me several times, “Out of thousands of pages of documents how did you find these signatures?” My answer was the same every time: I was not looking at thousands of pages of documents, I was looking at the financial reports for the Lucas County Republican Party and the signatures not matching was obvious.
“Are you a handwriting expert?” he asked me. No, I am not, I told him, which is one of the reasons I turned to Toledo Free Press; I knew that I could not get handwriting experts.
Next he asked, “What if I told you that Jon Stainbrook said he had permission from James Damas to sign these forms?”
I answered Gutierrez’s question: I told him there was nothing on those forms that indicated someone else signed them.
As I left, I felt fairly certain nothing was going to be done. When the decision was announced that there was going to be no prosecution, we did finally learn the truth: Damas did not sign the finance forms for the Lucas County Republican Party. Kelly Bensman, a close Stainbrook associate, admitted she signed at least one form.
Gutierrez’s report raises more questions than it answers. Why wasn’t action taken when the one signature was signed in front of a BOE employee? How can it be against election law to sign by proxy yet have it be determined if you have permission that’s not election fraud? Why was someone who demonstrated an impression of bias picked as the special prosecutor? Why were there several variations of Damas’ signatures?
I can hope those answers won’t take another eight months to discover, but I can’t shake the feeling that nothing will be done about any of that, either.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog Glass City Jungle.