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Ohio governor charged in ethics probe

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Governor Bob Taft was charged with four ethics violations yesterday, accused of failing to report dozens of gifts that included dinners, golf games, and professional hockey tickets, in a deepening scandal that has rocked Ohio's Republican Party.

Taft, a Republican and member of a distinguished US political family, becomes the first Ohio governor to be charged with a crime. The charges are also an embarrassment for a politician who has pushed for high ethical standards in his office.

Taft will respond publicly to the charges today, and is not planning to resign, spokesman Mark Rickel said yesterday. Prosecutors said they expect the governor to appear in court today, but declined to say whether a plea agreement was in the works.

The gifts were worth about $5,800 and given over four years, prosecutors said. Taft earlier had disclosed that he failed to report some outings, but said the omissions were accidental.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the gifts included two golf outings, worth $100 each, paid for by embattled coin dealer Tom Noe. Noe is a GOP fund-raiser whose $50 million investment of state money in rare coins launched the scandal that led to Taft's revelation that he had failed to list the outings on disclosure forms.

State law requires officeholders to report all gifts worth more than $75 if the donor wasn't reimbursed.

O'Brien said the gifts also included meals and Columbus Blue Jackets hockey tickets.

Taft spent yesterday in his office, announcing the signing of two minor bills in a statement that came less than an hour before the charges were disclosed. He returned to the governor's residence without making any comment.

Brian Hicks, Taft's former chief of staff, said the governor's golf outings were a break from the pressure of work.

''I don't believe for one minute that anybody got a contract, got an investment, got a policy decision made because they played golf with the governor," Hicks said. He was convicted of an ethics violation last month and fined $1,000.

The Ohio Ethics Commission last week concluded its investigation into Taft's golf outings and forwarded the results to prosecutors.

The alleged ethics violations against Taft are another blow to the GOP in the Republican-controlled state that won President Bush reelection. Democrats have found hope for the next election in the investment scandal, and a surprisingly close congressional race this month for an open seat in a GOP stronghold.

Taft's great-grandfather was President William Howard Taft.

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