Last week’s indictment accuses Bennett of receiving “dinners, golf, alcoholic beverages, tickets to sporting events, hotel costs and incidentals, boat rental/fishing trips, holiday parties, transportation, and gifts that total thousands of dollars,” according to the Plain Dealer report. Gratuities came from four firms hired by the pension board to manage its assets and investments, according to the report citing the indictment, which identifies the firms as:
- American Express/Northwinds Marketing,
- Lend Lease Real Estate Investment Inc.,
- Lowe Enterprises,
- RREEF America L.C.
In May, the Ohio Ethics Commission reported to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien that it had found evidence of possible misdeeds involving some pension board members. The agency reported that four vendors, all of which helped the board manage its investments, provided more than $200,000 worth of meals, trips, and other freebies to trustees, their staff members, and families (see Ohio Pension Officials Could Face Felony Charges ).
A month later Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed into law new ethics and accountability standards for the state’s five public pension funds (see Ohio Pension Board Reform Bill Signed into Law ). The push behind that legislation had its roots in a 2003 scandal about spending practices at the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) (see Buckeye State Teachers Kick Out STRS Chairman ) – spending levels that triggered the ire of pensioners being asked to pay more for retiree health care following a period when STRS had suffered a series of large investment losses (see Buckeye State Fund Tightens its Belt ).
A grand theft charge against Bennett, a fifth-degree felony, centers on mileage that Bennett charged to the pension board for driving his city-of-Dayton car to board meetings in Columbus. Prosecutors say Bennett was reimbursed for more than $500 for mileage between Dayton and the state police and fire pension board in Columbus. They believe Bennett used a Dayton police cruiser instead of his personal vehicle, according to NBC4 News.
About two years ago, Bennett repaid the pension board $4,479.75 “when he realized he may have received some improper mileage,” according to the Plain Dealer, citing Bennett’s attorney. Bennett repaid the money after a fellow trustee, Patrick Patton, was investigated for improper mileage reimbursements. Patton pleaded guilty to theft in office and tampering with records.
Bennett retired as a detective last month and stepped down as an elected pension board trustee – a departure that followed newspaper reports that he and fellow board members, Cleveland police Detective Robert Beck and Dayton firefighter David Harker, spent $612,451 on out-of-state travel and other expenses between 1998 and 2003, according to the report.