A former state senator could face criminal charges for his
efforts to obtain significant reductions in the workers compensation
rates paid by his company.
Jeffry Armbruster, a Republican from North Ridgeville, was
served with a complaint by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee in December
informing him that the group thinks he might have violated either state law or
the code of ethics. Armbruster left the legislature at the end of 2006 because
of term limits.
After a future hearing, the committee could refer the
matter to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron OBrien.
A key concern is that Armbruster, while serving as vice
chairman of the committee that oversaw issues related to the Ohio Bureau of
Workers Compensation, allegedly called bureau officials into his
Statehouse office to discuss getting his rate reduced.
The former senator, who has said he did nothing improper,
is part of a broader investigation into whether the bureau performed improper
"manual overrides" of its computer system to lower premiums for certain
There are legitimate reasons for such reductions, but
bureau auditors flagged 27 of 36 overrides they examined from January 2003 to
September 2005 for not following agency rules or not having enough
documentation to justify lower rates.
An internal e-mail written by a bureau official last March
appeared to question a reduction for Armbruster and noted "this is not the
first time we helped him/his business out."
His company, Armbruster Energy, got an 88 percent
reduction in the base rate paid in 2005. The bureau does not release dollar
amounts of the savings.
Attempts to reach Armbruster at his home and through his
attorney were unsuccessful. A former North Ridgeville mayor and councilman,
Armbruster told The Dispatch in December that he always has been careful to
keep his roles as businessman and politician separate.
"My business is my business, and I recognize that I cannot
impact or advantage my business based on my position as a state senator, as a
mayor or a city councilman and I have never done that in any case
whatsoever," he said.
Any matter before the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee
will not become public until the 12-member panel six Republican
lawmakers and six Democrats takes formal action.
It takes eight members to refer a matter for prosecution,
the only punitive action the panel can take against a former member.
Generally, a committee investigation goes through several
steps and can end with a formal hearing, after which the committee will state
publicly whether it is recommending criminal prosecution or dismissing the
matter, said Tony Bledsoe, the legislative inspector general.
Bledsoe would not discuss specific cases before the
committee but said that, by law, a private hearing is similar to a court
proceeding, with the committee acting as judge and jury.
OBrien said he is aware of the Armbruster matter but
is not yet taking action.
"When JLEC has filed a complaint, we await their
conclusion of the proceedings before we do anything," he said.
If prosecuted, sources said, Armbruster could face a
misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest.
Other bureau e-mails showed that at least seven current or
former legislators, as well as former Gov. Bob Tafts office, had asked
for consideration on behalf of the businesses involved in questionable
In contrast to Armbruster, who was acting on his own
behalf, other legislators were able to deny wrongdoing by saying they simply
were performing constituent service by contacting the bureau on behalf of
companies in their districts.
Dispatch reporter Mark Niquette contributed to this story.