State agents search office of Trumbull Co. Engineer

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) — Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted the Ohio Ethics commission in a search Thursday of Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith’s office.

Officials did not comment about what they were looking for, but this may be part of an investigation over a lawsuit filed last week that seeks Smith’s removal from office.

The suit was filed by Attorney David Engler on behalf of engineer’s office union steward Kendell Lee Stauffer Jr. of Girard. The lawsuit claims seven counts of misconduct in office by Smith, including having an unlawful interest in a public contract, improper employee activity, filing false financial disclosure statements and mail fraud to intentionally deprive the public of honest service.

The focus of the lawsuit is on Smith and an associate named Donald Barzak. Engler said the two owned property together before Smith hired Barzak in the engineer’s office.

“The Ohio Revised Code says you cannot do business with a business associate with government money. They own property together, they receive rental incomes, they have a mortgage together. He then hired his associate and gave him a raise,” Engler said.

Engler said Smith is a crony and was using his position of power to help better those close to him and didn’t file appropriate ethics information during his job.

“Cronyism is exactly what our allegation is. That the law prohibits you from hiring your business associates or immediate family members. You can’t for instance be able to hire your brother and then give your brother a raise,” Engler said.

A statement from Subodh Chandra, legal counsel for Smith, said “Engineer Randy Smith and his office are cooperating with the Ethics Commission as they make their inquiry 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.”

But Engler disagrees.

“The facts will all come out at some point in time. We’re confident. We wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit if we didn’t believe there was a basis for it,” Engler said.

If convicted of any crimes, Smith may be forced out of his position as county engineer. He also could face fines and jail time if convicted.

A press release from Engler provides a summary of offenses he believes Smith committed, including:

  • Smith hired his business partner, Don Barzak, shortly after taking office, giving him a position as Director of Governmental Affairs and Special Projects at a salary of $62,900. Smith and Barzak jointly own investment properties in Trumbull County.
  • Smith unlawfully engaged in a public contract. While serving as county engineer, Smith was hired by Trumbull County Health Commissioner Dr. James Enyeart to perform work as a private engineer.
  • Smith filed financial disclosure forms with the Ohio Ethics Commission in 2011 stating that as of Aug. 16, 2011, Randy Smith, Inc. was no longer in operation yet in February 2012, Smith, Inc. received $6,000 from the Trumbull County Health Department for a review of the LaFarge landfill in Lordstown.
  • Smith’s use of mail or wire transfer of fraudulent disclosure statements to the Ohio Ethics Commission constitutes mail fraud.
  • Smith said in a telephone interview that he had not seen the complaint but he is familiar with Engler and Stauffer. He said he will issue a release after he decides whether to hire an attorney or represent himself.

Smith’s predecessor, David DeChristofaro, was forced out of office over ethics violations. That investigation was prompted by Smith, who worked under former engineer John Latell. DeChristofaro beat Smith in the 2008 engineer’s race.

DeChristofaro was convicted in 2011 on a felony theft charge and a misdemeanor conflict of interest charge. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for using county time and money to send Christmas cards to political supporters. He also sent thank-you notes for his daughter’s wedding.

He then tried to reimburse the county using money from his campaign finance committee.

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