From John Curry, November 4, 2009
“If perhaps no one has bothered to file a complaint, please consider this an official complaint.”
Canton Repository, November 1, 2003
Teacher talks about STRS gripe she filed
By PAUL E. KOSTYU Copley Columbus Bureau chief
COLUMBUS — Sondra K. Stratton turned in the State Teachers Retirement System.
It was a complaint filed by Stratton, a retired teacher living in the Brown County community of Sardinia east of Cincinnati, that launched an investigation of the teachers’ pension fund by the Ohio Ethics Commission. Stratton said she sent a letter to the commission Aug. 5 but tried to keep knowledge of her effort quiet.
Copley Ohio Newspapers first reported the ethics investigation Oct. 10.
David E. Freel, executive director of the commission, said he cannot comment about its investigations and would not say who contacted his office about the teachers’ pension fund.
The commission also is investigating the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, but that inquiry could be made known because Gov. Bob Taft publicly requested it.
Freel said investigations of pension funds “are the highest priority” and are expected to last a couple of months or so.
Though the teachers’ pension fund had confirmed it was the subject of a commission investigation, it did not know who initiated the in-quiry. Laura Ecklar, a teachers’ pension fund spokeswoman, said at the time that the commission asked for records dealing with travel and investments.
The teachers’ pension fund has been under scrutiny since June after media reports raised questions about spending on travel, employee bonuses, artwork and other items. The spending came at a time when the system’s investment portfolio plummeted and health-care costs of members increased. Questions also were raised about the system’s internal policies.
Stratton has drafted a letter to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien asking him to investigate the pension system for fraud. She said she will mail the letter next week. She plans a similar letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, though she’s not sure to which office in Ohio she will send it.
O’Brien said this week he is looking into possible spending abuses by the Police & Fire Pension Fund. O’Brien has asked for help from the investigation arm of the Ohio attorney general’s office.
A spokeswoman for O’Brien said he would have to look at Stratton’s request to determine if it merited an investigation.
“I asked them to look at everything,” Stratton said of her request. “We want to see where the money is spent and if there was any criminal wrongdoing.”
Stratton said she has talked with Freel and other members of the commission staff a couple times since she sent her letter. She said she has provided Freel’s office with various documents, including news reports.
“They told me they had heard things,” she said, adding that she was told the commission had been waiting for a formal request so it could launch an investigation.
In her letter to O’Brien, Stratton said, “Many of us are wondering why in the eight months plus we have been working on this situation, collecting paperwork and uncovering a serious mass of misspent funds by the executive director, STRS board members and possibly STRS employees, the Franklin County prosecutor’s office has not begun an investigation.”
She added, “If perhaps no one has bothered to file a complaint, please consider this an official complaint.”
She accused teachers’ pension fund board members of being “hedonistic with the funds that they were supposed to be guarding.” She said there were more abuses at the teachers’ pension fund than at the police and fire fund.
Stratton said several people helped her prepare her investigative requests. The actual letter writing may have fallen to her, she said, because she “basically started” organizing teachers’ pension fund critics last spring for a rally in Columbus.
But she said these letters are her last effort.