Investigation

Our Investigation section is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the Ohio Ethics Law and related statutes and refers cases supported by substantial evidence for prosecution or alternative resolution.

You may contact an Ethics Commission Special Investigator at (614) 466-7090 to determine whether or not your allegation falls within the authority of the Commission, as defined in Ohio’s Ethics Law. Once this determination is made, the Investigator will mail to you an Allegation Form to be completed and returned to the Commission.

OVERVIEW

Any information indicating that a public official or employee may have violated provisions of the Ethics Law can be referred to the ethics agency that has jurisdiction over the public official or employee in question. Allegation forms are available from the Ethics Commission to refer potential violations of the Ethics Law by public officials and employees.

Please be aware that all Commission investigations and hearings are CONFIDENTIAL. Breach of confidentiality by Commission members or employees is potentially a criminal offense.

INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS

When a charge or allegation of unethical conduct is received by the Ethics Commission, staff first reviews the allegation to determine whether the alleged misconduct, if true, falls within the investigative authority of the Ethics Commission. If the allegation is not within the Commission’s authority, then staff will contact the sender and make whatever referrals are appropriate. If the allegation is within the Commission’s jurisdiction, staff will review the matter with the Commission which may direct the staff to conduct a confidential investigation

After a thorough investigation, Commission staff reviews the results with the Commission to determine how the case should be resolved. Possible outcomes include closing the matter due to insufficient evidence to support a violation of the Ethics Law; resolving the case under the Commission’s settlement authority; or sharing the results with the appropriate prosecuting authority.

COMPLAINT HEARINGS

A citizen may also file a sworn complaint by submitting a sworn affidavit alleging facts that support a specific violation of the Ethics Law. However, Commission rules require that the affiant demonstrate specific personal knowledge of all of the facts and evidence that support each element of a violation. In most instances, it is not necessary to file a formal complaint in order to submit an allegation to the Commission. Please call the Ethics Commission for further guidance.

Commission staff also may file a formal, sworn complaint, based upon information and belief, before the Ethics Commission, alleging that a public official or employee has violated the Ethics Law. These complaints typically involve persons who have knowingly failed to comply with the financial disclosure filing requirement. The Ethics Commission reviews the complaint and determines whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the facts constitute a violation. If so, the Commission then schedules a confidential hearing before the Commission or a designated hearing examiner. If the Commission schedules a hearing, the public official or employee has an opportunity to defend himself or herself and may be represented by a lawyer. All hearings are closed to the public.

After a hearing, the Commission decides by a preponderance of the evidence whether the facts stated in the complaint constitute a violation of the Ethics Law. If the Commission finds that a violation has occurred, it then determines whether this finding should be referred to the appropriate prosecutor for criminal prosecution. The referral will remain confidential unless the prosecutor fails to act on the referral within 90 days. If the prosecutor fails to take any action with respect to the referral, the Commission may publicly comment that the referral was made.

If the Commission finds that a violation of the law is not supported by the evidence, it will dismiss the complaint. All information concerning the complaint will remain confidential unless the person charged in the complaint requests that it be made public.

I. Financial Disclosure

Failing to file a financial disclosure statement in violation of R.C. section 102.02(C) is a fourth-degree misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $250 and/or a maximum of 30 days in jail. See R.C. sections 102.99(A); 2929.21. In addition, the Ethics Commission is required to assess a late filing fee equal to $10 per day, up to a maximum late fee of $250. See R.C. section 102.02(F).

Filing a false financial disclosure statement in violation of R.C. section 102.02(D) is a first-degree misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or a maximum of 6 months in jail. See R.C. sections 102.99(A); 2929.21.

II. Conflict of Interest

Violations of R.C. sections 102.03, 102.04 and 102.07 are first-degree misdemeanor criminal offenses, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or a maximum of 6 months in jail. See R.C. sections 102.99(B); 2929.21.

III. Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract

Violations of R.C. sections 2921.42(A)(1) and 2921.42(A)(2) are fourth-degree felony criminal offenses, punishable by a fine of up to $5000 and/or a maximum of 18 months in prison. See R.C. sections 2921.42(E); 2929.14; 2929.18.

Violations of R.C. sections 2921.42(A)(3) through (A)(5) are first degree misdemeanor criminal offenses, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or a maximum of 6 months in jail. See R.C. sections 2921.42(E); 2929.21.

IV. Soliciting or Receiving Improper Compensation

Violations of R.C. section 2921.43 are first-degree misdemeanor criminal offenses, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or a maximum of 6 months in jail. See R.C. sections 2921.43(D); 2929.21.

In addition, a public servant who is convicted of a violation of R.C. section 2921.43 is disqualified from holding any public office, employment, or position of trust in this state for a period of seven years from the date of conviction. See R.C. section 2921.43(E).

The Ohio Ethics Law promotes the general public interest and supports confidence by prohibiting public officials and employees from:

  • Participating in their public role in any action that involves the direct interests of the official, or those of a family member, or another with whom the official has an ongoing private business relationship;
  • Authorizing, or using a public position to secure, a public contract or the investment of public funds in any security that benefits the official, a family member, or a business associate;
  • Improperly profiting from a public contract;
  • Soliciting or accepting substantial and improper things of value, including, outside employment or consultation fees, gifts, or travel, meals and lodging, from those dealing with the public agency;
  • Unauthorized disclosure or use of information deemed confidential by law;
  • Representing others before any public agency in a matter in which the official or employee was involved, both during, and for a period of time (at least one year) after, leaving public service.
The Ohio Ethics Commission does investigate public officials or employees who:
  • Use his/her public position to benefit:
    • himself/herself
    • his/her family member or
    • his/her business associate
  • Award, discuss, or recommend public contracts in which any of the following has a financial interest:
    • The public official or employee
    • his/her family member or
    • his/her business associate
  • Hire family members into public positions (commonly referred to as “nepotism”)
  • Engage in prohibited revolving-door/post-employment behaviors
  • Solicit or accept substantial and improper things of value, including: outside employment, gifts, travel, meals, lodging, and entertainment
  • Engage in the unauthorized disclosure or use of confidential information
  • File false or incomplete Financial Disclosure Statements
  • Receive improper supplemental compensation
  • Misuse public equipment for private business
The Ohio Ethics Commission also may investigate anyone who:
  • Provides substantial and improper things of value to public officials or employees, including outside employment, gifts, travel, meals, lodging, and entertainment
  • Gives improper supplemental compensation to public officials or employees

Area of Law Agency to Contact:
Sunshine Law violations(Open Meetings/Public Records) Attorney General of Ohio
(614) 466-4320
www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
or
Auditor of Ohio
(800) 282-0370
www.auditor.state.oh.us
Lobbying or lobbyists or members or staff of the General Assembly Joint Legislative Ethics Committee
(614) 728-5100
www.jlec-olig.state.oh.us
Judges or judicial employees Board of Professional Conduct
(614)387-9370 http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/BOC/
Federal officials or employees U.S. Office of Government Ethics
(202) 482-9300
www.usoge.gov
Compatibility of dual public offices Attorney General of Ohio
(614) 466-4320
www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
Campaign finance or Elections Ohio Elections Commission
(614) 466-3205
www.elc.ohio.gov
Civil service/labor disputes/contract violations U.S. Department of Labor
(866) 487-2365
www.dol.gov
or
your agency/job/company
Codes of Professional Conduct (such as private attorneys, engineers, doctors, accountants, funeral home directors, peace officers, etc.) Appropriate professional licensing board
www.ohio.gov/agencies
Private industry/ consumer complaints Better Business Bureau
(703) 276-0100
www.bbb.org
or
Attorney General of Ohio (Consumer Affairs)
www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
Sexual harassment or Discrimination (age, gender, religion, equal protection, etc.) Ohio Civil Rights Commission
(888) 278-7101
www.crc.ohio.gov
Poor or substandard government customer service State agencies: Inspector General’s Office
(614) 644-9110
www.watchdog.ohio.gov
Local agencies: mayor's office
Selective enforcement allegations against police, prosecutors, or other government officials/agents Private cause of action.
Theft in office or bribery or other criminal offenses State agencies: Inspector General’s Office http://watchdog.ohio.gov/
or
Ohio State Highway Patrol
http://statepatrol.ohio.gov/
or
Local government: local prosecutor