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Investigation: County commissioner lied to prosecutor

Miami County Commissioner John “Bud” O’Brien lied to the county prosecutor when asked during an investigation about work done by a Vandalia company, according to a report that says O’Brien had arranged the project after meeting the company’s president at a political fundraiser.

But O’Brien’s actions were neither criminal nor ethics violations, the report concludes.

O’Brien, who is facing a Republican challenger in a primary and a Democratic challenger in the fall, released a statement Tuesday calling the report politically motivated, “inaccurate,” and “dirty politics.”

“I have done nothing wrong and this report confirms that fact,” he said. “I look forward to a campaign that focuses on the positive changes we’ve made at the county during my time on the county commission and look forward to representing Miami County in another term.”

The report — obtained this week — was sent March 28 to the Miami County prosecutor and sheriff from Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson, who was named as special prosecutor.

The report concludes a far-reaching corruption probe in the county that resulted in criminal convictions of two county facilities workers and a Troy auto shop owner.

An Ohio Ethics Commission investigation followed the criminal convictions. That concluded in September without finding any ethics violations, the report says.

The investigation dealt with a $2.5 million project to update the heating and air conditioning system in the county’s Hobart Center. The job was awarded to Vandalia-based Waibel Energy Solutions.

O’Brien “spearheaded” the effort in February 2012 to include a $250,000 monitoring system called Logix sold by Waibel after O’Brien was approached at a fundraising event by company owner David Waibel, the report says.

But when the county maintenance department fell under scrutiny in October 2012, O’Brien told then-Miami County Prosecutor Gary Nasal that he didn’t know if the county had the Logix system.

“Although Commissioner O’Brien clearly lied to Prosecutor Nasal, there is insufficient and conflicting evidence as to whether Prosecutor Nasal was acting in the performance of an ‘official function’ as required by (the Ohio Revised Code),” Wilson wrote on why there wasn’t legal grounds for a falsification offense.

He gave a similar explanation for insufficient cause for an obstructing official business offense.

“I think it’s unethical, whether the Ethics Commission found that out or not,” said Gregory Simmons, O’Brien’s Republican challenger, when he was contacted for comment. “It’s still something that should be addressed and I think he owes an apology.”

Investigative records also show uncertainty about whether the Logix system was properly paid for by the county.

The Ethics Commission investigation centered on whether Waibel plied county officials with gifts to help get the contract. In addition to campaign contributions to two commissioners, Waibel was accused of giving county employees an Apple iPad, flatscreen TV, food and tickets to sporting events.

Waibel officials said the Ethics Commission confirmed that the electronics were meant to be part of the HVAC system, though they ended up in the home of former facilities director Jarrod Harrah, and that the other gifts were not given with the expectation of the company getting anything in return.

“We did not do anything wrong,” said Waibel General Manager Dave Crosley. “That’s what was determined by the Ohio Ethics Commission and the fact no charges were filed.”

He said Dave Waibel mentioned the Logix system to O’Brien because he was excited about the technology, and that it has saved the county tens of thousands of dollars by allowing officials to better track energy usage.

“The county is really happy with what we did,” Crosley said.

No criminal charges were brought regarding any contracts. Harrah was convicted of theft in office and spent four months in prison before release in March 2013. Two others — another former county employee and a local business operator convicted of tampering with evidence — spent a few days in jail for theft in office and tampering with evidence, respectively. Another business owner was given a year of probation after admitting to tampering with evidence.

Nancy Bowman contributed to this report.

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