Politics & Policy

Email-Tapping Scheme Back to Haunt Strickland Administration

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that a Special Prosecutor has been appointed in the case of Joshua Engel, a high-ranking lawyer in the Strickland administration who thought it was a good idea to intercept email traffic between the Dispatch and the state inspector general. This is bad news for the administration – a special prosecutor means this might not just be a misdemeanor, but a felony. Highlights:

Chief Columbus City Prosecutor Lara Baker has been appointed a special prosecutor in an investigation of the former top attorney at the Ohio Department of Public Safety, a signal that the criminal probe involves potential felonies.

Baker already had been part of the review of the case involving Joshua Engel, who was fired late last month for intercepting all e-mail messages between his colleagues and the staff of the Ohio inspector general’s office and The Dispatch.

But Baker handles misdemeanor cases, and the appointment by Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien of Baker as a special assistant county prosecutor gives her the same powers as other assistant county prosecutors — including reviewing county grand jury materials and presenting felony cases to the grand jury.[…]

In April, Inspector General Thomas P. Charles referred the results of an investigation into a botched sting at the Governor’s Residence involving a planned contraband drop in January to an inmate working there.

As part of that review, authorities uncovered a long-running scheme to intercept e-mail messages between Public Safety employees and either the state inspector general or The Dispatch.

Engel, formerly the top attorney for the agency, was fired, and Pam Bolton, an attorney in the office who helped Engel electronically eavesdrop on the communications, resigned.

Agency Director Thomas Stickrath has acknowledged that some of the correspondence Engel and Bolton intercepted might have been confidential. “Obviously, when you’re dealing with the inspector general, some of the material is going to be highly sensitive,” he has said.

Through an attorney, Engel has denied wrongdoing.

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