Third Ex-Official from Teacher Fund Convicted in Ethics Probe

COLUMBUS (AP) -- A former member of the board that oversees Ohio's pension fund for teachers pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting Cleveland Indians baseball tickets and other gifts from investment clients. Jack Chapman, 59, the third former official from the State Teachers Retirement System convicted of ethics violations, acknowledged that accepting gifts from companies handling the pension fund's investments conflicted with his duties overseeing the system's finances.

Chapman, a retired Reynoldsburg teacher who resigned from the board in 2004, declined comment as he left Franklin County Municipal Court.

Judge H. William Pollitt fined Chapman $1,278 and ordered him to pay $4,000 to the Ohio Ethics Commission for its investigation. He also was sentenced to three years probation, and a jail term of about a year and a half was suspended. Prosecutors said Chapman has agreed to cooperate with their continued probe into whether current or other former retirement system board members and staff accepted similar gifts.

"Retirees shouldn't have to guess if those serving on the board are serving the public or serving their own self interests," said David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Chapman admitted to three counts of conflict of interest for taking the gifts from 1998 to 2003, including a golf outing and a ticket to the Broadway show "Hairspray." The gifts came from Frank Russell Corp./Russell Real Estate Advisors and Salomon Smith Barney, now Citicorp.

Another former board member, elementary school teacher Hazel Sidaway, was convicted in May of similar ethics violations, and Herb Dyer, the retirement system's former executive director, was found guilty last fall of improperly accepting gifts.

Legislators passed pension-fund ethics reforms after Dyer resigned in 2003 amid criticism that the system was spending millions on bonuses, art, and travel even as assets plunged. The new law requires all public pension funds to adopt strict ethics and travel policies. Board members are restricted to three out-of-state trips per year and are limited to spending $6,000, Ecklar said.

They also are required to take training on ethics and financial responsibility.

The teachers' retirement system serves more than 439,000 active and retired educators with assets of about $59.6 billion.

Posted by PJS

The Associated Press contributed to this report.