Ohio Turnpike Commission
(OTC) brass wrongly accepted gifts and favors from companies and
law firms doing business with the turnpike, according to the Aug.
6 investigation report from the Ohio Inspector. As a result of
a report from IG Thomas Charles and the Ohio Ethics Commission
(OEC), OTC Director Gino Zomparelli resigned Thursday, according
to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
Later in the day, OTC Chairman
Tim Greenwood received and accepted Zomparelli's resignation.
The chairman said he will take up the matter of how to proceed
Monday when the Turnpike's full board meets. In the letter, Zomparelli
said state officials had unfairly portrayed his performance.
The investigation found
reasonable cause to believe wrongdoing occurred when Zomparelli
and other turnpike staff, including General Counsel Thomas Amato
and Deputy Director Daniel Castrigano, accepted a significant
number of gratuities, over an extended period of time, from companies
and law firms doing business with the turnpike. These gratuities
included free golf outings, tickets to sporting events, prestige
seating at sporting events, meals, entertainment tickets and miscellaneous
The OEC also found reasonable
cause to believe wrongdoing occurred when a former turnpike commission
vice chairman, Earl Williams, solicited from Zomparelli a job
for his son. Zomparelli subsequently hired the commissioner's
son, prior to the end of Williams' term.
Additionally, the investigation
identified wrongdoing when Patrick Patton, the turnpike legislative
liaison, spent a total of 155 working days, over a 40-month period
of time, dealing with Ohio Police & Fire pension system business,
as a pension board member, while on the turnpike's payroll. Patton
also collected gas reimbursements from the Ohio Police & Fire
pension fund while at the same time driving his assigned turnpike
car and utilizing fuel purchased by the turnpike.
The IG's office, governor's
office and the ethics commission received an anonymous complaint
alleging misconduct by Zomparelli. They later received an anonymous
allegation against Patton. Due to the nature of the issues involved
in these allegations, a joint investigation was initiated with
the ethics commission. Many interviews were conducted and numerous
documents were subpoenaed and reviewed during the course of the
investigation. The issues set forth in these allegations were
consolidated into six areas of concern involving various incidents
of misconduct and mismanagement.
The OEC has offered seven
recommendations to the Ohio Turnpike Commission and has requested
they respond within 60 days. Due to the nature of their findings,
they are forwarding a copy of the report to the appropriate prosecuting
attorneys for review and possible criminal prosecution.
The report concluded: "Accepting
gratuities seems to have become a part of the culture of the OTC
... A cavalier attitude regarding the acceptance of gratuities
seems to permeate at the OTC and extends from the employees to
administrative officials and commissioners."
--Rene Tankersley, feature editor