Ohio Court Finds Former Pension Board Official Guilty of Ethics Violations

April 17, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A former Ohio state teachers' pension board member was convicted Friday of two misdemeanor ethics violations for accepting gifts from two companies that were doing business with the retirement system.

Hazel Sidaway, 62, of Canton, was found guilty by the Franklin County Municipal Court of two of the six violations she was charged with, being acquitted on the other four accounts. She was not sentenced to jail time but likely faces a fine and probation, the Associated Press reported.

Sidaway, who served on the board from 1986 to 2003, had been accused of accepting free meals, hotel stays and tickets to entertainment events. The jury found Sidaway guilty of conflicts of interest for accepting two tickets worth $550 to the Broadway musical “Hairspray” and four Cleveland Indians tickets.

The theater tickets were from Washington-based Russell Investment Group while Russell advised the agency on investments, and the baseball tickets from Smith Barney, an investment firm that is now a subsidiary of Citigroup.

Ohiolaw generally condemns such practices of public employees accepting gifts from those they have business dealings with, making both the person giving the gift and the official receiving it in danger of violating Ohio’s ethics laws, according to the report.

Executive Director Damon Asbury issued a reassuring message to participants Monday. “But what is most important for STRS Ohio members to know at this time is our unwavering commitment to maintaining the trust and confidence of our members and other system stakeholders,” Asbury asserted. “We have comprehensive policies, procedures and safeguards in place to ensure that both current and potential vendors and all associates know that any gifts, regardless of their value, are strictly prohibited. These include adoption of an ethics policy; ethics training for both board and staff members by Ohio Ethics Commission staff; annual filing of financial disclosure statements by all board members, the executive director and key staff with the Ohio Ethics Commission; a proactive stance with vendors communicating the prohibition of gifts of any kind or amount; and strict board and staff travel policies that clearly delineate expense parameters for food and lodging and limits on overall expenditures.”