Ohio Democrats victims of break-in
Thieves grab computer from party headquaters in Columbus
By STEVE EDER and JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
COLUMBUS — Thieves targeted the Ohio Democratic Party Headquarters this week, stealing a computer and a high-tech communications gadget belonging to party chairman Denny White.
Police said yesterday one or more burglars appeared to have climbed a wall Monday and crawled through an unlocked second-story window overnight at the party headquarters about three blocks from the Statehouse.
The break-in occurs at a time when the Ohio Republican Party is threatened by one of the largest scandals to hit the state’s government in decades.
Some Democrats also say the break-in is eerily similar to a burglary at the Lucas County Democratic Party Headquarters last fall, in which three computers were stolen.
Police, though, said it is unclear if the theft had anything to do with politics, or the investigations into investments at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
“Until we find the person, there’s no way of knowing that,” said Sherry Mercurio, a police spokesman, who said investigators lifted fingerprints at the scene.
Yesterday, posters celebrating John Glenn’s accomplishments still hung on the walls of the headquarters, a portable stereo sat on a desk, and a few Sony Vaio desktop computers with flat panel monitors remained untouched.
The items belonging to Mr. White were a Dell computer valued at $800, a flat-screen monitor valued at $250, and a $250 BlackBerry communications device.
The break-in occurred a week after the Ohio Democratic Party began airing a 30-second TV ad that links Republican office-holders with the state’s failed $50 million rare-coin investment with Tom Noe.
Lawyers for Mr. Noe, a Republican fund-raiser, have told authorities that about $13 million in assets are missing from the coin fund.
Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said the state GOP had nothing to do with the break-in.
“I certainly hope the implication is that this was not politically motivated,” Mr. Mauk said. “I can guarantee from our perspective that this is not the case.”
He added, “It sounds to me like Mayor [Michael] Coleman has a crime problem that they need to address.”
There were two other burglaries nearby on Monday night, both at restaurants.
In one case, someone smashed a window of a restaurant and stole $150 in property.
In another, someone used a piece of concrete to shatter a rear glass door of a restaurant, police said.
Dan Trevas, a spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said every crime is taken seriously by police, and the burglary will be investigated.
“The Republicans ought to be more concerned about the crimes that are happening in state government,” Mr. Trevas said.
“The Republicans ought not to be throwing stones near the pile of glass that used to be the house that they lived in.”
Mr. Mauk, the Ohio GOP spokesman, said Republican offices were targeted several times by vandals during last year’s election.
“We’ve had our [headquarters] broken into and had our building spray-painted pretty aggressively over the past year,” he said. “We installed security cameras and that seems to have made a difference.”
To some Democrats, this week’s break-in is reminiscent with a burglary in October at the Lucas County Democratic Party Headquarters about three weeks before last year’s election.
In that case, thieves shattered a side window overnight at the headquarters, stealing computers and sensitive campaign information.
Toledo police investigated, but were unable to make any arrests in the case.
Ten days after the break-in, Toledo police said greed — not politics — appeared the be the chief motive for the crime.
Sandy Isenberg, who was chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party at the time of the break-in, said yesterday the latest burglary “sounds more and more like dirty tricks.”
“It’s no different than our break-in, through a window, [they] took three very important computers, and left everything else,” she said. “Come on — How strange is that? I find it extremely peculiar and suspicious.”
The former Lucas County commissioner said the computers nabbed in last fall’s break-in contained “loads and loads of information that could be used in many different ways.”
“I lived through the Nixon era and I’m living through this convoluted mess right now,” she said.
“And it would seem to me that the Republicans will stop at nothing to further their cause. That’s unfortunate because there are many Republicans out there who would and do find this situation that the state of Ohio is in abhorrent of their beliefs and values.”
Roger Sanders, an attorney working on a Democratic voter protection project last year, who had his laptop computer stolen during the break-in at Lucas County Democratic Party Headquarters in October, said this week’s burglary “Looks suspicious and it certainly sounds more like Watergate than Coingate.”
In August, thieves broke into the Ohio AFL-CIO headquarters in Columbus, stealing eight desktop computers and two laptop computers, said Kent Darr, an AFL-CIO spokesman.
Police have not made any arrests and the computers were not recovered, Mr. Darr said.
One of the computers contained a letter — which was not backed up — that instructed labor groups around the state on how to properly register voters.
On the eve of the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election, two Wood County residents filed a lawsuit against Americans Coming Together and three “partner” groups, including the Ohio AFL-CIO.
The lawsuit alleged that their votes would be diluted because ACT and the other three groups had fraudulently registered voters.
Although there are copies of the letter, the AFL-CIO does not have the original that could be submitted in court, Mr. Darr said.