► Columbus Dispatch – 06/25/02 – Watchdog accuses 4 justices of defrauding state at gas pump Print E-mail

Columbus Dispatch – June 25, 2002 – Watchdog accuses 4 justices of defrauding state at gas pump

John Craig
Dispatch Statehouse Reporter
 
Judicial watchdog David Palmer has bitten once again, this time accusing four Ohio Supreme Court justices of siphoning tax dollars by pumping more gas into state vehicles than the tanks are designed for.
 
Palmer of Columbus filed 28 felony theft-in-office charges Friday in Franklin County Municipal Court. Yesterday, Judge mark Froehlich scheduled a hearing for July 15.
 
Palmer obtained public records of the justices’ purchases of fuel using state-issued gas cards. In his complaints, he says that Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices Andrew Douglas, Paul Pfeifer and Francis Sweeney defrauded the state by repeatedly pumping more gasoline in state vehicles that he vehicles can hold.
 
Palmer alleged:
 
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer pumped as much as 25.6 gallons gas into a car designed to hold 18.5 gallons, spending as much as $29.60 to fill his Buick Park Avenue.
 
Justice Andrew Douglas pumped 29.3 gallons into the 18.5-gallon tank of a Buick Park Avenue, at a cost of $34.50.
 
Justice Francis Sweeney overfilled on 12 occasions, putting as much as 24.5 gallons in the 189.5-gallon tank on his Buick park Avenue, at a cost of $36.75.
 
Palmer says it is Pfeifer, however, who should qualify for Ripley’s Believe it or Not, by squeezing 36.3 gallons into the 20.5 gallon tank on his Jeep Grand Cherokee. Pfeifer was exempted from paying taxes on the purchase, according to an invoice attached by Palmer.
 
“it means you’re either pumping the gas into another vehicle, like an SUV or something, dumping it on the road or pumping the excess into another vehicle,” Palmer said.
 
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer’s spokesman, Jay Wuebbold, said, “The court is confident that the date will refute” Palmer’s complaints.
 
“The court has yet to even receive any official notification,” he said. “The court is now gathering information about billing data.”
 
For example, Wuebbold wondered why the eight Pfeifer purchases cited by Palmer all were invoiced at $1 per gallon, before taxes.
 
“That’s what I want to know. Maybe he’s getting a farmer’s exemption,” Palmer said. “Can they get a tax exemption for personal use?”
 
“I have never done that,” Justice Andrew Douglas told WBNS-TV (Channel 10). “And the charge, in regards to me, is not only outrageous. This time, he’s gone too far.”
 
Last year, more than $8,700 was returned to the state after Palmer filed felony theft complaints against nine retired visiting judges, accusing them of overbilling for meals, lodging and daily stipends [wages].
 
Palmer also questioned why Supreme Court justices get taxpayer-funded vehicles.
 
The Ohio Constitution, Section 4.06(B) says, “judges shall receive no fees or perquisites,” yet six of the seven Supreme Court justices drive state-owned cars.
 
Joe Case, a spokesman with the state attorney general’s office, said that section of the Constitution has never been challenged.
 
But Jay Wuebbold said, “Even if the language went in in 1912, it seems to me a car is hardly a perk.”
 
Because several judges commute to and from other cities, a car should come with the job, he said.
 
Since March 1999, the Supreme Court has purchased seven vehicles for $216,788, or an average of nearly $31,000 per vehicle.
 
Three justices drive Buick Park Avenues and two drive Jeep Grand Cherokees. A fifth drives a more modest Ford Taurus. Justice Deborah Cook drives her own car, but bills the state for mileage.
 
In the past three years, the Ohio Supreme Court spent more than $15,000 on gasoline and $35,229 on repairs for its nine-car fleet.
 
The state also provides parking for each justice at $100 per month.
 

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