Rep. Murray Urges Thorough Review by Prosecutors of IG Investigation Despite Resignation of State Superintendent Heffner

State Representative Dennis Murray sent a letter to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. urging a continued full and thorough investigation into Superintendent Heffner’s actions and whether criminal charges should be brought.  Saturday, Mr. Heffner announced his resignation on the heels of last week’s report by Inspector General Meyer finding wrongdoing by Mr. Heffner. Last year, while serving as interim-Superintendent Mr. Heffner testified before the Senate Finance Committee in favor of legislation that would and did financially benefit Education Testing Services (ETS), with whom he had accepted a job and signed an employment agreement. A copy of Rep. Murray’s letter can be seen below. The full report by Inspector General Meyer can be seen here.

August 7, 2012 

Ron O’Brien
Franklin County Prosecutor
373 S. High Street, 14th Floor
Columbus, Oh 43215

Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr.
Columbus City Attorney
90 W. Broad Street
Columbus, Oh 43215

Dear Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Pfeiffer:

I write to express my serious concern regarding the report released last week by the Inspector General on the actions of State Superintendent Stan Heffner (Office of the Inspector General Report of Investigation, File ID No.2011-139, hereinafter “Report”).  While media reports have made clear that your office has received a copy of the report, and that Mr. Heffner has since resigned his position, I trust that the potential crimes detailed in the report will be investigated and prosecuted per your discretion and duty.

As I alluded, the Report concluded by finding “reasonable cause” to believe that the Superintendent committed wrongful acts and omissions.  In reviewing this Report, it is clear that an investigation into possible criminal charges by the appropriate prosecutor is warranted.  It is equally clear that any criminal investigation or charges that might follow would be the subject of considerable scrutiny.  I trust that your offices will handle this matter with the full cooperation of the Inspector General, the Ohio Ethics Commission, and other State officials or departments you deem appropriate. 

The Report details a relationship between Heffner while he was acting Superintendent and Educational Testing Service (ETS), a company that tests teachers, contracts with the state, and stood to gain a significant financial windfall based on proposed legislation being considered by the Ohio General Assembly.  Mr. Heffner, in fact, had entered into an agreement for employment when he testified in support of the legislation before the legislature.  The report found that Superintendent Heffner testified “to the legislature as the state’s principal employee for leadership in education, in support of a bill that could and ultimately did benefit a corporation with which he had entered into an agreement of employment.” And by doing so, Heffner “failed to meet the standards of proper governmental conduct as are commonly accepted in the community and subverts the process of government” (Report, page 8).  The potential violations of ethics laws raised by the Report deserve the ongoing attention of the prosecutor’s office and Ethics Commission, with their expertise in reviewing potential violations of the Ethics Law for state officials.

Further the nature of the relationship between Mr. Heffner and ETS raises clear evidence of the unauthorized use of state property, theft in office, and improper compensation of a public official.  The Report shows that Mr. Heffner negotiated and built his relationship with ETS as a future employer while purportedly engaging in state business and representing the state, using state phones and e-mail accounts, and other state resources.  Mr. Heffner had two ODE executive secretaries conduct a long series of logistical and administrative support of his personal business ventures, including the employment contract with ETS, flights to other job interviews, and entire days working to sell his Ohio residence and purchase real estate in Texas related to his move and planned new employment with ETS (Report, pages 8-14). 

Previous reports from the Inspector General, including and especially those with similar findings of improper use of state resources, time, and employees, were each referred to appropriate prosecutor offices in conjunction with other investigatory agencies.  This includes recent IG Reports, such as File ID 2012-CA00009 (DNR officers hunting deer on duty – referred to Brown County Prosecutor); File ID 2011-187 (Liquor control inspector, among other findings, using a state vehicle to conduct political business on state time – referred to Trumbull County Prosecutor, Ohio Elections Commission, Ohio Ethics Commission);  File ID 2011-214 (DNR employee illegally receiving benefits from a company doing business with the state – referred to Preble County Prosecutor and Ohio Ethics Commission).

Prosecutors are an underappreciated element of well-functioning democracy and serve as a kind of safety valve necessary to the fair application of our criminal laws.  Prosecutors of all political stripes have almost universally set partisanship aside when considering whether to prosecute and, if so, what charges to bring.  A critical component to this dispassionate exercise of prosecutorial discretion has been the separation of the prosecutor from the initial investigator.  That is not to say that they do not or should not communicate with each other.  But the prosecutor is not so deeply invested in the investigation that charges seem inevitable.  On the other hand, the prosecutor, exercising well-recognized and appropriate discretion, has the benefit of a broader perspective of when and how to charge in light of other charges and considerations.

 Mr. Heffner’s resignation, while an appropriate step in this situation, does not alter the duty of prosecutors.  Justice and the significance of our criminal laws, in your capable hands, demand their own path of careful consideration, discretion, and process.  Please advise if I could be of any assistance in this matter. 

Very Truly Yours,
Rep. Dennis Murray

 C: Randall J. Meyer
Inspector General
30 East Broad Street – Suite 2940
Columbus, OH 43215

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