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Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney has used forfeiture funds to help pay $2.2 million in no-bid contracts to friend and former colleague

Cincinnati, OH, seat of Hamilton County (Wikimedia Commons)

Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney has used forfeiture funds to help pay $2.2 million in no-bid contracts to friend and former colleague

A recent report by CityBeat shows that Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Deters has engaged a longtime friend and former subordinate in a number of no-bid contracts totaling approximately $2.2 million. Two-thirds of the funds paid by Deters to Dennis Lima and his technology company have come from funds collected by his office through criminal forfeiture efforts.

Because Deters has deemed Lima and his business a “consultant,” Ohio law requiring the county to seek competitive bids does not appear to apply. The CityBeat, howeverargues that what Lima’s company has done goes far beyond consulting.

“But Lima was more than just a consultant,” writes CityBeat reporter James McNair. “He replaced and installed entire IT systems, software and databases. Hamilton County offices such as the Board of County Commissioners, the auditor and the sheriff routinely seek bids for such work.”

Lima was the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney’s in-house information technology person when Deters was the elected county prosecutor from 1992–1999. When Deters was elected state treasurer in 1999, Lima left and started his own company, LimaCorp, and later its successor, OnLine Business Solutions.

Deters was again elected to be the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney in 2005 and quickly hired Lima’s company on an 11-month no-bid contract worth $181,000. Since then Deters has continued to hire Lima’s company as a consultant for his office on one-year contracts without ever bidding out the work. This relationship has continued despite Lima at one point filing bankruptcy, at which time he disclosed “more than $500,000 in debts, mostly bank loans to LimaCorp.”

The relationship between Deters and Lima raises ethical concerns, as Ron White, an ethics professor, explained to CityBeat: “In an ideal world, everyone that has the ability to spend taxpayer dollars would be trustworthy and wouldn’t use their position of authority to reward friends with lucrative contracts.”

Prosecutors in Ohio are allowed to use money obtained by way of criminal forfeiture, a process that involves the selling of cars, computers, firearms, land, and other items, usually at auction, that were used in the commission of a crime and later seized by the state. By law, forfeiture money is supposed to go for law enforcement purposes, although prosecutors enjoy wide discretion in how the money is spent.

New documentary explores the false freedom of life on parole

New documentary explores the false freedom of life on parole

There’s a story the mainstream media trumpets most loudly when it comes to parole, and it’s a frightening one: A violent criminal is released from prison, and within weeks or months of their release, a heinous, tragic crime is committed again. The lesson this story teaches the public is toxic, and largely inaccurate. When the only stories of parole we tell are those that end in bloodshed, “getting out on parole” becomes synonymous with fear, and imparts the idea that no one should ever receive parole.

A new documentary from Frontline and The New York Times, released Tuesday, seeks to tell a very different and far more common story. Life on Parole follows the stories of four formerly incarcerated people in Connecticut as they navigate the conditions of their release from prison. The film chronicles a lesser-told truth about what it really means to get out on parole, and just how easy it is to violate the terms of release and wind up back behind bars.

Under Gov. Dannel Malloy, the state of Connecticut has seen dramatic change in its criminal justice system. In 2012, the death penalty was abolished, and following the legalization of medical marijuana, lawmakers in the state are now considering legalizing marijuana for personal use. In 2015, Malloy launched a package of reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, which included speeding up the parole process for nonviolent offenders. But as more people are released on parole, the state now grapples with the rate at which they end up violating the terms of their release and winding back where they started.

The documentary offers a vital counter narrative to the most commonly told story, and illustrates that the most frequent violations that land someone on parole back in prison are a far cry from the dramatic violent stories that most often wind up in the headlines. Living under intense scrutiny and supervision, the experiences of the four subjects of the film demonstrate just how easy it is to misstep, for everything from visiting a loved one to buying a coffee at the wrong store.

“Some people think that being on parole is you’re free,” says Jessica, one of the film’s subjects who is on parole for five years. “You’re not.”

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Marion County Attorney Ed Bull declines to turn a 14-year-old girl into a sex offender for “sexting”

Marion County Attorney Ed Bull declines to turn a 14-year-old girl into a sex offender for “sexting”

Confronting a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Marion County Attorney Ed Bull will not file criminal charges against a 14-year-old girl for “sexting.” Photos of the girl were acquired and printed by male students at her high school.

Last year, the Iowa prosecutor launched an investigation of the high school student, Nancy Doe, for sending two Snapchat photos to an unnamed boy. As the ACLU pointed out in its lawsuit, the minor wasn’t naked in either photo; she was wearing underwear in one and the top half of her body was shielded by her hair in another. The pictures were discovered by staff at Knoxville High School, who caught two students printing explicit photos of their classmates, including Doe’s. The school contacted local police, and Doe was one of at least 30 students targeted by Bull and threatened with criminal charges.

Bull considered prosecuting Doe and her peers for child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor, which if successful would result in them becoming registered youth sex offenders. In lieu of a criminal prosecution, the students were given the opportunity to participate in a pre-trial diversion program, forfeit their computer and phone use, and admit to wrongdoing. Instead, Doe’s parents sued the county attorney last September.

“Unless the photographs were produced by abusing or coercing Nancy, which they were not, or they show Nancy engaged in sexual activity or lasciviously displaying her genitals, and again they do not, the photos are expression protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Doe’s attorneys wrote in their lawsuit. In November 2016, the ACLU took on the family’s case and filed an injunction in federal court, asking that a judge block any charges filed by Bull.

“Rather than take every juvenile to court I looked for a solution that would help them learn from their mistakes and hopefully prevent their behavior from being repeated, while allowing them to avoid having a criminal or juvenile conviction or even a charge on their record,” the county attorney said in response to the lawsuit.

Bull has since done an about-face. Last Thursday, the ACLU revealed that Doe is no longer facing criminal charges. The county plans to shell out $40,000 to cover the organization’s legal expenses. And yet Bull remains steadfast that he made the right decision. “As county attorney, it is my job to pursue justice. Nothing can or will change that,” he said. “I will put the ACLU’s dismissal papers in my file and go right back to work serving my community.”

As the Des Moines Register noted, prosecutors are considering various types of criminal charges for “sexting.” According to Futures Without Violence, an organization dedicated to ending violence against women and children, sharing nude or semi-nude photos can constitute sexual harassment and cyberbullying. But criminal prosecutions of teenagers who have shared photos of themselves to other consenting teens have resulted in criminal convictions, turned them into registered sex offenders for life, and resulted in girls’ slut-shaming.

Regardless of why Bull ultimately declined to charge Nancy Doe, the decision shows that prosecutors have the power to treat youth like youth and keep them out of the criminal and juvenile justice systems. One arrest and one court appearance drastically increases the likelihood that a juvenile will drop out of school. The sex offender label also comes with devastating obstacles down the line, restricting housing, employment, and education prospects. Persuaded or not by Doe’s pushback in court, Bull ultimately prevented her from suffering this fate.

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