COLUMBUS — A former state senator at the center of an ethics investigation held a meeting before he left office to ask other public officials about ways to reduce worker compensation rates on his company, a newspaper reported.
Jeffry Armbruster, a Republican from North Ridgeville who left at the end of 2006 because of term limits, has denied using his office for personal gain.
He and at least five other lawmakers are being investigated by Ohio’s legislative watchdog, which is trying to determine if political influence played a role in rate reductions for some companies.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation gave Armbruster Energy Stores an 88 percent rate reduction for its gas stations, according to a story published Sunday by The Columbus Dispatch.
Armbruster had a meeting in his office in February 2006 with a legislative liaison for the workers’ compensation bureau, according to documents The Dispatch said it obtained through a public records request.
The liaison, Emily Frazee, expected to meet with Armbruster to discuss a variety of issues, including the rates of two other companies. But Armbruster turned the conversation to his own company, The Dispatch said.
Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe, who is conducting an investigation, interviewed Frazee this year and then sent an e-mail to her with follow-up questions, the newspaper said.
Bledsoe questioned why Frazee offered to have Todd Spence, the bureau’s employer-consultant manager, help Armbruster.
“You suggested in your earlier statement that you didn’t feel it was your responsibility to help with the senator’s personal business,” Bledsoe wrote. “Why then did you refer him to anybody in particular? Why didn’t you just indicate that you couldn’t help and he should work through the established system as everyone else?”
Donald Brey, an attorney for Armbruster, declined comment when reached by The Associated Press on Monday.
Frazee, who now works as a deputy press secretary with the state auditor’s office, also declined comment Monday.
Armbruster has previously said he always kept his business interests out of politics.
The senator’s inquiry about rate reductions for his company caused a stir among others inside the workers’ compensation bureau, according to e-mails reviewed by The Dispatch.
“This is Senator Armbruster’s business. I believe that this is not the first time we helped him/his business out,” wrote Elizabeth Bravender, director of the bureau’s actuarial section, in a March 2006 e-mail to Tracy Valentino, the bureau’s chief financial officer.
“I am sending this to you to let you know that my name on the e-mail does not implicitly mean that I approve of this action,” Bravender wrote.
A 12-member, bipartisan Joint Legislative Ethics Commission has until late June to decide whether to recommend that criminal charges be brought against Armbruster for improperly using his elected office for personal gain, newspaper said.