COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Auditor Keith Faber wants more training for public employees to spot government fraud and corruption and requiring them to speedily report suspected crimes, as a way of improving the state's ability to root out and prosecute bad actors and recoup taxpayer money.
Faber said Thursday that his office has raised the bar for catching officials at all levels of government who are trying to lie, cheat and steal from public coffers.
“Unfortunately,” he told reporters at a Statehouse news conference, “there is much more to do.”
His calls for additional training and reporting came as Faber marked his office's 100th conviction for fraud and corruption — most at the local government level — since 2019, when he began his first term as auditor. Those cases have resulted in more than $5 million in restitution and findings for recovery totaling over $18.3 million.
Faber's is the second Republican anti-corruption bill to be announced against the backdrop of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder's trial on a federal racketeering charge in federal court in Cincinnati. Federal prosecutors allege Householder, a Republican, and lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the state Republican Party, took part in a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.
A group of Republican state representatives led by state Rep. Derek Merrin announced an Ohio Ethics and Financial Disclosure Reform Act proposal on Jan. 18, a couple of days before jury selection began in the trial.
State Rep. Phil Plummer said the Householder trial was an embarrassment to the GOP. “The Republican side of the aisle is involved in this trial, and the Republican side of the aisle is now going to fix these problems,” he said at the time.
Faber said he had initially been working with Merrin, who was in line to be the next House speaker, but after Merrin's surprise defeat by now-House Speaker Jason Stephens, he opted to start his proposal with state Sen. Tim Schaffer in the Senate.
Schaffer, a third-term Republican, said the bill is in the drafting stages, and may yet be incorporated into the two-year state operating budget — where GOP Gov. Mike DeWine’s plan includes Faber’s request for one additional Special Investigations Unit officer.
Faber said whether penalties should accompany the speedy-reporting requirement will have to be debated by the Legislature, but making Ohio law clear that waste, fraud or abuse should be reported immediately can help his office recover more stolen tax dollars.
“We want to catch people who are lying, stealing and cheating earlier, we want to make it more transparent and we want to make it more difficult that people take a crack at taxpayer dollars,” he said.
As for training, Faber said he believes the more than 700 tips and over 100 open cases at a time that his office is handling “are only scratching the tip of the iceberg.”
He said teaching government officials and employees to spot red flags could take as little as five or 10 minutes every year or two.
“We believe that we can increase the public's knowledge of a place to go to report bad actors in government by increasing our presence, increasing our communications and increasing our staff's ability to handle intakes," he said.