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 In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine speaks during a news conference in Dayton about his race for governor. (AP)  In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine speaks during a news conference in Dayton about his race for governor. (AP)

In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine speaks during a news conference in Dayton about his race for governor. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman February 6, 2018

Ohio Democrats lack proof that AG Mike DeWine 'stifled' sexual harassment investigation

Ohio Democrats have attacked Attorney General Mike DeWine about his role in a sexual harassment investigation in his office in 2013.

The unnamed accuser would never identify the alleged harasser. Ultimately, multiple investigations were closed without any action.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a Jan. 4 press release that DeWine failed to provide a safe workplace for employees "when he interfered with and stifled an investigation of sexual harassment allegedly involving a member of his inner circle, and then he eliminated the office that investigated harassment claims within the AG’s office."

Pepper lost his bid to unseat DeWine as Attorney General in 2014. Democrats attacked DeWine for his role in the investigation that year, too.

The Democrats are rehashing the attack this year since DeWine is running in the May 8 Republican primary for governor.

We found no evidence that DeWine "stifled" the investigation. We also found that while DeWine did eliminate the position of an officer who investigated sexual harassment, he also established a new procedure for investigating such complaints.

DeWine ‘interfered with and stifled an investigation of sexual harassment allegedly involving a member of his inner circle’

In August 2014, the Sandusky Register reported that DeWine played a role in an investigation the previous year involving allegations that an employee in the Attorney General’s office had sexually harassed an intern.

A spokesman for DeWine sent PolitiFact the 118-page investigative file which included the steps taken through three investigations: first by the Attorney General’s human resources office, then by the Franklin County prosecutor and finally by the Attorney General’s equal employment opportunity compliance officer.

The file includes summaries of witness statements and conclusions by investigators. Throughout the process, the accuser declined to name the alleged harasser, even to investigators, and gave conflicting reports about what happened.

The accuser’s attorney, Ritchey Hollenbaugh, told PolitiFact that the accuser did not want to be interviewed.

Here is a summary of what happened, according to the investigative file:

The law student started as an intern in 2011 and accepted a full-time position in November 2012, pending completion of the bar exam.

But in April 2013, she withdrew her acceptance citing personal reasons. A supervisor who had spoken to the woman told human resources that it sounded like the woman had been sexually harassed by a "higher up" who was close to DeWine.

The Attorney General’s office contacted the woman to obtain more information, but she would not name the alleged harasser. She initially said that the relationship with the man was sexual in nature but in a subsequent interview she said she must have made a mistake by stating it was sexual.

Shortly after the investigation started, the accuser hired an attorney and declined to provide more information.

On April 22, 2013, DeWine’s office turned over the case to the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O’Brien.

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About a month later, the woman met with O’Brien after he threatened a grand jury subpoena if she didn’t cooperate.

The woman described incidents involving an employee that were "creepy," such as sitting very close to her or putting his hand on her shoulder. She denied that he touched her in a sexual way, according to O’Brien’s memo.

The woman told O’Brien that after she backed out of the job, she felt compelled to provide an explanation and provided misinformation.

O’Brien concluded he had no prosecutable case.

Next, the matter was investigated by Kristine Cadek, the Attorney General’s equal employment opportunity compliance officer. Cadek launched her investigation in June in 2013. At this point, the accuser still hadn’t named the person who allegedly harassed her, but a confidential informant had come forward with the harasser's identity.

Cadek interviewed about two dozen employees ending with DeWine.

He asked her to provide the name of a confidential informant, which she was reluctant to do, but she did. Ultimately, she found informant’s information was unsubstantiated.

DeWine’s office spokesman, Dan Tierney, told PolitiFact that DeWine asked for the name to make sure every possible step had been taken.

Cadek closed her investigation on Aug 8, 2013.

"I could find no evidence to substantiate (the woman’s) claim and, without her cooperation, and absent any evidence or any identification of the alleged harasser, this case is closed," she wrote.

DeWine ‘eliminated the office that investigated harassment claims within the AG’s office’

This part of Pepper’s attack relates to what happened to Cadek’s position about a year after she closed her investigation.

In 2014, the position of compliance officer disappeared when Cadek was transferred to a new job.

Cadek was promoted to the position of crime victims claims lead investigator and received a pay raise of $3,640, Tierney said. (Cadek resigned in 2016 when she took another job.)

Instead of filling the compliance officer position, DeWine changed the procedure to have an outside law firm investigate employment complaints.

At least 10 internal employment investigations -- including two about sexual harassment -- have been assigned to the lawyer since December 2014.

Our ruling

The Ohio Democratic Party said that DeWine "interfered with and stifled an investigation of sexual harassment allegedly involving a member of his inner circle, and then he eliminated the office that investigated harassment claims within the AG’s office."

The evidence cited by the Democrats does not show that DeWine interfered or stifled the investigation. There were three investigations -- one by human resources in his office, one by a prosecutor and then one by DeWine’s compliance officer. All three investigations were closed after the woman declined to identify the accuser, even to investigators.

There is a kernel of evidence related to the Democrats’ attack that DeWine eliminated the office that investigated harassment claims. A little more than a year after Cadek closed her investigation, she was promoted into another job. Rather than fill the position, DeWine changed the procedure for investigating such complaints by outsourcing them to a law firm.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Ohio Democratic Party press release, "DeWine refuses to say whether he Would Fire A State Employee Who Engaged In Harassment," Jan. 3, 2018

Sandusky Register, "DeWine dogged probe," (Accessed in Nexis) Aug. 6, 2014

Sandusky Register, "Loyal friend, awful AG," Aug. 9, 2014

Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Democrats say Attorney General DeWine meddled in sexual harassment investigation," Aug. 7, 2014

Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Democrats seek investigation into DeWine’s handling of allegations," (Accessed in Nexis) Oct. 3, 2014

Cleveland Plain Dealer, "AG race mudslinging attacks light on substance," Oct. 22, 2014

Columbus Dispatch, "State agencies; Dem rips DeWine's handling of probe," Aug. 12, 2014

Plunkett Cooney law firm, Christina Corl, Accessed Jan. 24, 2018

Interview, Kirstin Alvanitakis, Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman, Jan. 10, 2018

Interview, Dan Tierney, Attorney General Mike DeWine spokesman, Jan. 12, 2018

Interview, Ritchey Hollenbaugh, attorney for woman who made sexual harassment allegation, Jan. 15, 2017

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More by Amy Sherman

Ohio Democrats lack proof that AG Mike DeWine 'stifled' sexual harassment investigation

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