Four More Charged in OH STRS Scandal

August 30, 2006 ( - One current and three former Ohio State Teachers' Retirement System (STRS) officials are the latest to face conflict-of-interest charges in the scandal that has beleaguered the system for more than a year.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that current board member Michael Billirakis was charged with two conflict-of-interest counts for accepting $275 tickets to the 2003 Broadway musical Hairspray from Frank Russell Corporation/Russell Real Estate Advisors and tickets to a 2001 Cleveland Indians game from Salomon Smith Barney. Former board members Joseph Endry, Eugene Norris and Deborah Scott each were charged with one conflict-of-interest count for accepting Hairspray tickets.

The four were charged with failing to report that they received gifts worth $75 or more to the Ohio Ethics Commission, according to the Dispatch. The first-degree misdemeanors are punishable by a fine as high as $1,000 or a six-month jail term.

Ethics Commission attorney Paul Nick pointed out there was no evidence that any of the board members directed pension business to the vendors that offered them gifts or they would face more serious bribery charges, the news report said. And Executive Director of STRS Damon Ashbury said in a statement that “David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, has been quoted as saying there is no sign that the gifts swayed investment decisions.”

In August 2005, Herb Dyer, the former executive director of the system was charged with five misdemeanor violations of Ohio ethics law for accepting vendor gifts (See Ohio STRS: Dyer Charged with Taking Consultant Gifts).

In June of this year, former board member Jack Chapman pled guilty to three conflict-of-interest counts (See OH STRS Board Member to Plead Guilty to Ethics Violations ), and former board member Hazel Sidaway was convicted on similar charges in April (See Former OH Pension Board Official Sentenced to Community Service ).