Ohio News Briefs

Ohio pays off debt, saves businesses from tax penalties

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio paid off the remaining $271 million on its recession-era debt to the federal government last week, a move officials say will save employers hundreds of millions of dollars in tax penalties.

The debt came from a loan needed to cover benefits to jobless workers and was paid off prior to last week’s deadline to avoid additional interest payments from the state, The Columbus Dispatch reported. It also means the state dodged another tax hike on the state’s businesses ahead of a November deadline.

The payoff will help employers, who have been paying higher federal unemployment taxes under a mandatory repayment system. Employers will save about $351 million next year, said Bruce Madson, assistant director of the state Department of Job and Family Services.

Under the repayment system, businesses in the state have paid higher unemployment taxes since 2012 to pay down the loan’s principal, and the state has paid interest on it. The debt reached $3.4 billion at one point.

Ohio and other states were forced to borrow from a federal loan to continue paying unemployment compensation after the recession hit because they didn’t have sufficient reserves. Lawmakers have appointed a panel to address structural issues to prevent future borrowing.

“We’re really happy, but we still need (lawmakers) to focus on the trust fund,” Madson said.

State law calls for the minimum adequate reserve for its unemployment compensation fund to be at $2.8 billion, but the current balance is $620 million and could drop to $180 million in 2017, Madson said.

Gov. John Kasich said the payoff is “good news for Ohio businesses and workers” and said lawmakers “are right to be looking at long-term solutions to Ohio’s broken unemployment compensation system that are fair to both employers and workers.”

A solution would likely require adjusting taxes paid by employers to fund the system and benefits paid to jobless workers.

Self-described Ohio psychic accused of stealing $1.5M

MENTOR, Ohio (AP) — A self-described Ohio psychic is accused of stealing more than $1.5 million in cash, jewelry, gift cards and cars from several clients.

Gina Miller was indicted on Tuesday on 28 charges including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated theft, telecommunications fraud and securing writings by deception.

The alleged incidents happened between August 2001 and September 2015 at Gina’s Psychic Studio near Cleveland.

Prosecutors say Miller stole from 11 people. She allegedly told the victims that harm would come to their families if they refused to pay her.

Court records show investigators seized Louis Vuitton purses, iPhones and computers, as well as Rolex watches and other jewelry.

Miller’s attorney says she’ll plead not guilty.

Police: Paintball shooting blinds Ohio cyclist in 1 eye

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A central Ohio man accused of firing a paintball gun at a 72-year-old bicyclist and leaving him blind in one eye has been sentenced to four years in prison for that case and an attempted drug-possession case.

The Franklin County prosecutor says 22-year-old Thomas Woodruff, of Columbus, was sentenced Tuesday after previously pleading guilty to a felonious assault charge for the paintball shooting.

Woodruff’s attorney, Mark Hunt, says his client didn’t intend to hit anyone in firing the paintball gun and he didn’t know he that he had.

The bicyclist was found on the ground next to his bicycle, bleeding from one eye, after the paintball shooting in May 2015. He reported that a backseat passenger in a passing vehicle had fired at him during an early evening bike ride.

Ohio fracking foes claim fundamental right to charter votes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Attorneys seeking to restore a series of anti-fracking measures to fall Ohio ballots are telling the Ohio Supreme Court that getting a chance to decide the issues is a fundamental right of the voters.

Election boards in Athens, Meigs and Portage counties invalidated petitions seeking to put the measures on 2016 ballots and Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted upheld those decisions.

The charters would restrict water use for fracking and prohibit disposal of fracking wastewater. They contain language that Husted and the counties argue would be unconstitutional because it would leave counties without an authorized form of government.

In a filing Tuesday, backers of the measures call that a circular argument. They say the people’s right to self-government is “fundamental, inherent and inalienable,” not something bureaucrats should control.

Police: Inmate who fled hospital, stole car back in custody

WILMINGTON, Ohio (AP) — Police in southwestern Ohio say a prisoner who escaped while at a hospital and made a getaway in a stolen car is back in custody.

Wilmington police reported late Tuesday that John McKinney was in custody again, but they didn’t immediately release details about how or where that occurred.

Police say McKinney was wearing black-and-white striped jail clothing when he escaped from Clinton Memorial Hospital on Sunday. Police say he took several blankets with him that he may have used to cover his jail uniform.

Wilmington police have promised to investigate how McKinney was able to escape.

During the search, police warned that anyone helping McKinney would be prosecuted.

Ohio farm’s seized baboon dies in state custody at sanctuary

MASSILLON, Ohio (AP) — A 22-year-old baboon seized from a northeast Ohio farm in the state’s crackdown on exotic animal ownership died at a sanctuary while in state custody, and the owner is seeking answers about what happened.

Cyndi Huntsman of Stump Hill Farm told The Independent in Massillon the state informed her attorney late last week that a female hamadryas baboon that had been sent to Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, Indiana, had died. The state didn’t explain how, she said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state’s exotic animal rules, had been notified on Aug. 30 about the baboon’s death, department spokesman Mark Bruce said. The results of a necropsy aren’t yet available.

It is the third of Huntsman’s animals to die in state custody since the Department of Agriculture took five tigers, two pumas, two baboons and a chimpanzee from the farm in May, saying the farm hadn’t met Ohio’s tightened restrictions and permit requirements for keeping such creatures. One of the tigers gave birth to four cubs at the state holding facility in Reynoldsburg, and two of those cubs died.

Huntsman said the baboon, named Pandora, had been taken in by Stump Hill after a Pennsylvania family couldn’t care for her. The animal had anxiety problems but was otherwise healthy when she was seized, Huntsman said.

The baboon’s death further discourages Huntsman, who has legal challenges pending in an effort to get her animals back.

“It’s not real good odds,” she said. “By the time I am done fighting, there will be no one to come home. They’ll all be dead.”

Ohio enacted its stricter rules on ownership of dangerous wild animals after a suicidal man released lions, tigers and other creatures from a Zanesville-area farm five years ago. Many of the animals seized since then have been relocated to state-approved facilities elsewhere.

Victim of fake 911 call sues Ohio police over damage to home

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man who was the victim of a fake 911 call is suing the city of Toledo and its police over damage done when they raided his home and arrested him in response to the call.

The lawsuit filed this week also alleges police caused emotional distress for the 33-year-old Army veteran and destroyed property they took in the September 2015 raid. The man, Donald McGranahan II, seeks over $25,000 in damages.

Toledo’s law director tells WTOL-TV the city will fight the lawsuit. He says the city agreed to pay for the home damage but hasn’t done so yet because the parties haven’t agreed on a fair amount and McGranahan must prove the value of the damaged property.

WTOL reports no one has been charged for the prank call.

Ohio patrol reports 11 crash deaths during Labor Day weekend

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The State Highway Patrol says the number of crash deaths on Ohio’s highways during the long Labor Day weekend apparently decreased compared with the same period a year ago.

Troopers say the initial count showed 11 crashes resulting in 11 deaths from Friday through Monday. That’s three fewer deaths than in the comparable weekend last year.

The patrol says troopers were out in force over the holiday weekend. They arrested 730 drivers for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. More than 4,800 drivers were cited for seat belt violations.