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, however, argues 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.