By CHRISTOPHER BOBBY
This is a view
during a rainy Thursday of the
Trumbull County Engineer’s Office building
on North River Road,
from where records were seized.
Tribune Chronicle / Margaret Thompson
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.
Engineers in trouble
Randy Smith - Under investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission, which searched the Engineer's Office Thursday. A top official with the commission said investigative matters are confidential. Smith was appointed by the Trumbull County Democratic Party as engineer in August 2011 to replace David DeChristofaro, who resigned, and was elected to his own term in 2012.
David DeChristofaro - Elected in 2008. Resigned in July 2011 and later convicted on charges that he used the office for personal and political reasons. Given two years of probation and ordered to pay $5,000 restitution and $7,400 more to cover the cost of investigation. State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors gave DeChristofaro a two-year stayed suspension of his professional engineer and surveyor licenses and fined him $1,000.
John Latell - Scolded in July 2007 by the Ohio Department of Transportation for inadequate project administration and not complying with federal requirements.
James Fiorenzo - Convicted in 1994, in his second year as county engineer, of six felony charges related to the remodeling of his office on North River Road. The court ruled that he spent $25,000 of public money on the job without putting it out for competitive bidding. Sentenced to three years in prison, served one before being granted shock parole.
- Ron Selak Jr.
The properties listed
The relationship between Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith and Don Barzak, who Smith hired as his director of governmental affairs / grants and special projects coordinator for more than $70,000 a year, has both been documented in a lawsuit that seeks to remove Smith and presented to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Investigators with the ethics commission searched the Engineer's Office Thursday.
According to the Trumbull County Auditor's Office website, Smith and Barzak jointly own several pieces of property. They are:
6881 state Route 305, Hartford - The Hartford Grange building, purchased by Smith and Barzak in June 2004 for $36,000.
201, 203 and 205 W. Main St., Cortland - Smith and Barzak bought this building, where Barzak's financial management firm is located, in June 2002 for $105,000.
3326 Bushnell Campbell Road, Hartford - Smith and Barzak bought this home in February 2013 for $15,000.
According to the Trumbull County Recorder's Office website, Smith and Barzak:
Recorded a $30,000 open-end mortgage in May 2004 with Sky Bank for 6881 state Route 305. They also recorded an assignment or rents agreement for the property.
Recorded a $95,000 open-end mortgage in June 2002 with Sky Bank for 203-205 W. Main St.
- Ron Selak Jr.
''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.