BCI seizes items from county Engineer’s Office
By CHRISTOPHER BOBBY
State agents searched Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith’s Office on Thursday, looking for what appears to be potential evidence in an ethics probe.
As many as a half dozen investigators with the Ohio Ethics Commission and Bureau of Criminal Identification, or BCI, spent more than two hours at the North River Road building acting on a sealed search warrant that was returned to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Julie Korte, Ethics Commission chief investigative attorney, said she could not share information on the search since ”all of the commission’s investigative matters are confidential by statute,” but according to one of Smith’s top aides, payroll records and documents related to oil and gas well exploration were taken.
”All I can say at this point is they asked for and got payroll records and oil and gas records,” said Herb Laukhart, the office’s director of finance and personnel.
Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office, which operates BCI, said the agency’s role was no more than to help the Ethics Commission serve the warrant.
Smith could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Subodh Chandra, wrote in a statement that Smith and the office are cooperating with the commission ”and look forward to working with them to resolve any concerns.”
”The engineer is optimistic that any concerns can be cleared up, as he has always taken his ethical obligations as a public servant seriously,” Chandra stated.
A source close to the investigation said the probe parallels a lawsuit filed last week against Smith by Kendell Lee Stauffer Jr., a union steward in the Engineer’s Office, who is seeking Smith’s removal from office for unlawful interest in a public contract. He claims Smith hired a business partner.
Among several counts of alleged misconduct in office, the lawsuit states that Smith, a one-time Hartford Township trustee, hired Don Barzak, a one-time Johnston trustee, to work in the Engineer’s Office as director of governmental affairs and special projects. Barzak resigned from that position in April of 2013.
The lawsuit states that both men jointly own investment property in Trumbull County, including property at 3326 Bushnell Campbell Road, Hartford, purchased in February of 2013, and property at 6881 state Route 305 in Hartford, bought in 2004.
The lawsuit claims that both men have an open-ended mortgage with Huntington Bank for rental property at 205 W. Main Street, Cortland.
It wasn’t until August of 2011 that Smith gave Barzak the $62,900 job, and then gave him a raise in 2012, bringing the annual salary to $70,000.
The lawsuit also accuses Smith of getting paid $6,000 by the Trumbull County Health Department for a review of the 2012 LaFarge Landfill renewal application while in office. The review was done by Randy Smith Inc., the engineer’s private company, even though Smith told the Ohio Ethics Commission the company was dissolved when he took office.
Smith, according to the lawsuit, failed to disclose to the Ethics Commission his business association with Barzak.
The suit also accuses Smith of mail fraud in his ”fraudulent disclosure statements” to the Ethics Commission.
Smith was appointed to serve as engineer Aug. 17, 2011, replacing former Engineer David DeChristofaro, who resigned and was later convicted of using the office for personal and political reasons. Smith was then elected to the office in 2012.