COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Bob Taft (search) made opening remarks at mandatory ethics seminars for state employees in 2003 and earlier this year where a memo on free golf that led to his recent conviction was either discussed or referred to in handouts.
Prosecutors used the May 2001 document by the Ohio Ethics Commission (search) as the linchpin in their ethics case against Taft, saying any golf he was treated to after the commission ruling should have been reported.
Taft pleaded no contest last week to charges of accepting free golf to become the first Ohio governor convicted of a crime.
After his Aug. 18 conviction, Taft said he learned this summer of the commission's four-year-old memo, which included golf outings in the ban on accepting gifts worth at least $75.
In June 2003, though, Taft made opening remarks at mandatory ethics training for senior state government employees. Afterward, two members of the ethics commission (search) distributed a six-page outline of Ohio's ethics laws and rules, including a reference to the 2001 document, according to records of the 2003 event obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
Similar documents were distributed at seminars that Taft attended in April and May of this year, the records show.
The golf memo was also referred to in ethics seminars run by the governor's office on three separate occasions in 2002.
It was unclear if Taft saw the ethics outline or was aware of the reference, spokesman Mark Rickel said. A system is now in place to record and respond to gifts such as free golf outings (search), he said.
Golf was a regular topic of the ethics seminars, said David Freel, director of the Ohio Ethics Commission.
"In virtually all of our sessions that we did after June of 2001 through early 2004, we talked about the so-called golf opinion," Freel said.