COLUMBUS — The man leading an investigation of former Attorney General Marc Dann’s office said he prides himself on steering clear of politics and living up to a reputation of being tough but fair. Inspector General Tom Charles, 65, a retired Ohio Highway Patrol officer, said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really do like the word ‘fair,’ and I like the words ‘impartial’ and ‘independent,”‘ said Charles, whose job is to function as a watchdog over fraud, abuse and corruption. “We think we should be tough because we’re here for the protection of taxpayers’ money and want to be the office that people can come to with some confidence.”
Gov. Ted Strickland signed a bill Tuesday giving Charles authority to investigate Dann, a fellow Democrat who resigned Wednesday under the threat of impeachment because of a sexual harassment scandal in his office. Dann also acknowledged having an extramarital affair with a subordinate, which he said contributed to an inappropriate atmosphere in the office.
Until last week, Charles’ authority extended only to offices under the control of the governor and not the attorney general, who is independently elected by Ohio voters. But lawmakers who supported putting Charles in charge of the Dann investigation said they couldn’t think of a better person for the job.
“The inspector general is the only office of which I am aware that is well equipped to lead a thorough, unbiased inquiry into this matter,” said Senate President Bill Harris, an Ashland Republican.
Charles, who was appointed inspector general in 1998 by former governor and current U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, is used to big stages. He played a leading role in investigating an investment scandal at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation that plagued the end of Gov. Bob Taft’s administration helped end 12 years of GOP power in the state.
That scandal began in 2005 with the revelation that Republican donor Tom Noe was investing state money in rare coins. Noe’s now serving 18 years in prison for theft and other crimes. Twenty people were convicted in the scandal, and more than $300 million in losses were reported at the bureau.
The Noe scandale led voters in 2006 to turn to Democrats, including Dann, to take over many of the top statewide offices.
Charles said the workers’ comp investigation was a defining moment for his office.
As he did with that inquiry, Charles is assembling a task force of about a dozen agencies, including the Highway Patrol and the Ohio Ethics Commission to help with the Dann probe.