All Muck Is Local: Animal House

May 7, 2008 6:09 p.m.

It’s hard to say exactly where all the trouble started for Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann (D), because there’s so much trouble.

But Dann’s says he’s not going anywhere. That’s despite a virtually unanimous call from Ohio elected officials, including the Democratic governor, that he resign. Dann’s resolve is firm. Now state lawmakers are mulling impeachment, though not everyone agrees on that course of action. As one Dem lawmaker put it, “I don’t know whether we should impeach somebody for being stupid.” So Dann might survive after all, the many, many very embarrassing details notwithstanding.

If you had to pinpoint the source of Dann’s downfall, it would have to be Anthony Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is a heavy drinking lecher and the world’s worst pickup artist. He is also an old friend of Dann’s. So when Dann was elected the state’s attorney general in 2006, he put his buddy Tony in charge of the AG’s general services.

Dann also moved into a condo in Columbus with Gutierrez and another buddy, Leo Jennings III, who became Dann’s communication director. The mens’ wives did not move with them, remaining in faraway Youngstown.

And there they lived the bachelors’ life without incident. Until September 10th.

That night, Gutierrez succeeded in convincing Cindy Stankoski, a 26 year-old staffer in the office, to go out drinking with him. They went to one bar, and then another, and then another. He drank Crown Royal and ordered Grey Goose vodka for her. The next step was to get her back to the condo. He bragged about the power he wielded in the AG’s office and told her that his relatives back in Youngstown had Mafia ties. He rang up Dann, who urged Stankoski to come on over. They’d even get Hawaiian pizza for her. Gutierrez pushed, telling her that she’d be OK with “the big dogs.” She relented.

At the condo, there was pizza and tequila. Another female staffer from the office, oddly enough, was there too. Stankoski felt awkward and very drunk. She sent a string of text messages to a friend: “im at marc dann’s place…” then “pick me up” then “Girl…im in a weird situation.. iem w marc dann….” then “drunnnnk.”

When she asked to lie down, Gutierrez directed her to his bedroom. She awoke several hours later to find three of her buttons on her pants undone. Gutierrez was lying besides her in his underwear.In her later sexual harassment against Gutierrez, Stankoski said that he’d eventually admitted that he’d unbuttoned her pants and had wanted to have sex with her (he put it more crudely)… but he’d decided against it because he was her boss.

Stankoski filed her complaint along with another staffer in the office in March. Vanessa Stout, also 26, said that Gutierrez had gotten her a job at the office and then repeatedly insisted that the favor be repaid with sex. One time when she’d visited the condo, Gutierrez had given her a sex toy.

Shortly after the women filed the complaints with the attorney general’s office, they were approached and told that the office was willing to “do anything you want” to resolve the complaints privately. They declined. And when the investigation seemed to be going nowhere, they went to the press.

The story broke on April 6th in The Columbus Dispatch. Two days later, Dann agreed to launch a full investigation of the complaints and put two attorneys from his office on the case. Since then, it’s all been downhill for Dann.

Reporters found Gutierrez a rewarding subject. His background check showed 27 tax liens, civil judgments, and a personal bankruptcy. When he’d started at the attorney general’s office, he’d owed $5,000 in unpaid state taxes and $10,000 in federal taxes. And then there’s the drinking.

In September, 2006, Gutierrez, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer discovered, had been busted for a DUI. And after he’d been booked for blowing a .149 on the test, who else picked him up, but his buddy Marc Dann?

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. Part of Gutierrez’s duties at the AG’s office as head of general services put him in control of a fleet of 250 state vehicles. That Gutierrez’s license was suspended when he was hired didn’t seem to matter.

As soon as Gutierrez’s suspension ended, he assigned himself an SUV. That same month, he dented a 2007 Chevy Tahoe in a parking garage, but got it fixed by one of the state’s offices and did not file an accident report.

In August, Gutierrez’s drunken driving led to his meeting Vanessa Stout, who lived in the same condo complex. One night, she, her father, and her boyfriend watched as Gutierrez bumped into her father’s truck as he was trying to pull into his parking space. The next morning, she went over to tell him that they’d seen him hit the truck. “He seemed confused,” she later said, “but then told me that he will take care of the cost no matter what.” A couple weeks later, Gutierrez made his move:

Gutierrez called Stout and invited her to visit the condo to meet the attorney general. She was watching Cops on television, she told him.

“Stop wasting time watching cops on TV and come hang out with the real cops and have some cocktails,” Gutierrez replied. Shortly after she arrived at the condo, Dann found out she was unemployed and instructed Gutierrez to find her a job in his office “anywhere she fits.”

In October, the problem got worse. Driving drunk, he fell asleep at the wheel and ran the state-owned Chevy Suburban into the guardrail. The next morning, he made the mistake of telling Stankoski about it. As she described it, he’d come in looking like a “hot mess”: “The few hairs on his head were standing up, he reeked of booze and vomit and boogers or vomit were hanging from his nose.”

That car was also quietly fixed, though it took on a new life as the Sunshine Express. Flames were painted on each side of the black SUV along with the Ohio AG’s office logo with the idea that it would serve as a promotional vehicle.

But the problems in Dann’s office did not stop with Gutierrez. There was Dann’s curious relationship with another female staffer in the office, who seemed to have spent a number of evenings — and mornings — at the condo (as a drunken Stankoski had discovered). And then there was the general office culture, one that seemed to run on booze and vulgarity.

Suddenly, Dann’s July, 2007 comment to a reporter (caught on video), “Hey Steve, write this down: go fuck yourself!” made sense. Ditto for the minor scandal created by Dann’s buddy Jennings’ profanity-laced email to a co-worker.

The Dispatch quoted one man who’d interviewed for a position with the AG’s office, only to be bewildered by questions about whether he minded constant cursing or abrasive personalities. He said he heard staff members in adjacent work areas shouting obscenities toward each other. The gentle soul didn’t get the job.

As for Dann’s suspicious relationship with that staffer, the 28 year-old Jessica Utovich — his office initially rebuffed an open records request by the Dispatch. The paper noted the irony, since Dann had campaigned on government transparency. Finally, his office produced 2,000 emails, which were unremarkable except for a few which showed an unusual relationship between an AG and his scheduler. For instance, this one from Utovich: “I hate you.”

But it all fell apart for Dann when the two attorneys produced the findings of their investigation. Gutierrez and Jennings were fired. Utovich resigned, as did another of Dann’s old buddies, Edgar Simpson. And Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Urban was revealed to have sent this text message to Dann: “I will not lie like Leo [Jennings] wants me to … I love you and Tony and Leo, but not enough to get disbarred.”

Urban later explained that she’d refused to lie about having traveled with Jennings in the same car to a bar. Jennings wanted her to say they’d traveled in separate cars, so that investigators didn’t think there was “anything extramarital going on between him and I.” Urban denied that there was, but emails obtained during the investigation gave a different impression. This exchange occurred on November 26th, after Gutierrez found out that Jennings had left for the evening:

Gutierrez: “want to get together”

Urban: “Where are you drunkard?”

Gutierrez: “Don’t matter where I am where are we going to end up?”

Urban: “Ton, you are going to end up in your bed and I am going to end up in mine. Mine may or may not be empty depending on who we meeting up with.”

Gutierrez: “Wrong answer.”

Urban: “You are not Leo.”

Gutierrez: “Better.”

Urban: “What makes you think that?”

Gutierrez: “You have to take a test drive to fine out. One drive you see for yourself. Money back offer.”

Urban: “You can’t do that to Leo. Not nice Ton.”

And then there was Dann. He admitted at a press conference that he’d had an affair (but didn’t say with whom), and apologized for his “human failings.” Or as the Dispatch cartoonist put it:

The investigation report showed that Dann had initially refused to answer questions about whether Utovich had spent the night at the condo, but he later thought better of it and admitted that she had.

So what’s next? By the Dispatch‘s count, there are seven investigations, inquiries or reviews still being done by various state offices into Dann’s office. But Dann does not seem to care, and the Ohio political establishment seems temporary stunned by his refusal to succumb to the overwhelming pressure to resign. That seems unlikely to last, though, as both parties seem united in their desire that Dann disappear — for Democrats, the sooner, the better.

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