Wednesday, August 17, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Bob Taft was charged with four criminal misdemeanor counts yesterday for failing to report dozens of gifts that included dinners, golf games and professional hockey tickets.

The gifts were worth about $5,800 and given over four years, prosecutors said. Mr. Taft earlier had revealed that he failed to report some outings but said the omissions were accidental.

Mr. Taft, a Republican and member of a distinguished U.S. political family, could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail on each count if convicted, though time behind bars was considered unlikely.

He will respond publicly today and is not planning to resign, spokesman Mark Rickel said. Prosecutors said they expected the governor to appear in court today.

Investigators have looked for weeks at Mr. Taft’s purported violation of a law requiring officeholders to report gifts worth more than $75 unless the donor is reimbursed. He had announced problems involving the reporting of golf outings in June but said any errors were inadvertent.

The accusations about Mr. Taft, 63, grew out of a scandal that began with revelations of problems with an unusual state investment in rare coins.

The investment was handled by coin dealer Tom Noe, a top Republican Party donor. Mr. Noe has acknowledged that up to $13 million is missing from the fund, and Attorney General Jim Petro has accused him of stealing as much as $4 million.

Mr. Taft released records Aug. 5 showing he accepted invitations to 21 golf outings since 1999. They included a 2001 outing with Mr. Noe.

The records released earlier this month did not indicate who paid for the outings. Mr. Taft’s golf partners included John W. Snow, then the head of transportation company CSX Corp. and now the U.S. Treasury secretary, and Tony Alexander, president and chief executive of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.

Some partners have said Mr. Taft paid for the golf; others have said they picked up the tab.

In a speech given in May, the governor had stressed the importance of ethical behavior for public employees.

“Public employees can enjoy entertainment, such as golf or dining out, with persons working for a regulated company, or one doing business with the state, only if they fully pay their own way,” he said in the speech at Xavier University.

Mr. Taft’s former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, pleaded no contest last month to failing to report stays at Mr. Noe’s million-dollar Florida home. He was found guilty and fined $1,000 after entering the plea.

Democrats have found hope for the next election in the investment scandal and surprisingly close race this month for an open seat in southwest Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District, a conservative stronghold that the Republican candidate only barely managed to win.

Mr. Taft’s great-grandfather was President William Howard Taft, who later was chief justice, and both his father and grandfather were U.S. senators from Ohio.

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