Bob Bytes Back Archive: 7/10/1996 Tommy Takes The Town

by Bob Fitrakis

Tommy, George and Greg and Bob Dole would have to be an idiot to pick George Voinovich for vice president. Despite the obligatory fawning articles this past Sunday in both the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Voinovich-to borrow a phrase from President eagan-is up to his keister in a scandal. You can bank on it. In fact, you can take Tommy (T.G.) Banks to the bank on this. Remember the name, he’ll be a key factor in why Voinovich won’t be selected as Dole’s running mate. Or, if Dole is more out of it than he seems, why Ohio will have its own version of Whitewater. The governor, with the assistance of the Columbus Dispatch and assorted lawyers and PR flaks, are in the fight of their life to keep Andy Zajac’s well-documented Akron Beacon Journal article on contract steering, published a week ago Sunday, from becoming a major scandal. The article is so explosive it would not only deny Voinovich the VP slot he so covets, but also dash his hopes for winning a U.S. Senate seat -if he’s passed over by Dole-in 1998.

As mentioned last week, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Paul Mifsud suddenly announced his resignation on June 24 to spend more time with his family. In reality, ace reporter Zajac had been dogging Mifsud for months about a strange, sweetheart construction deal with the Banks Carbone Construction Company. Tommy Banks, the minority owner of the company, took out two permits for an estimated $210,000 in construction on the house of one Dr. Kathy Bartunek, future wife of Mr. Mifsud.

Now, Mr. Mifsud and Dr. Bartunek claim that Tommy Banks promised to build a plush-library, office, breakfast nook, etc.-1,200 square feet, two-story home addition as well as a 1,450 square feet, three-car detached garage for only $35,000. Yep, that’s right folks, for the remarkable price of $35,000. Now, according to the governor’s guy Mifsud, Banks blew it, and overran the construction costs to $109,000. Nobody can explain why Banks’ permits totaled $210,000. Mifsud and Bartunek have not produced canceled checks, as of yet, to show that they actually paid Banks anything, let alone the $109,000.

More curiously, after completely blowing the deal with perhaps the second most powerful man in Ohio politics, Banks went on to receive nine of 16 unbid minority contracts from the state of Ohio. A case of ultimate incompetence paying off? Hardly. Coincidence, Banks and Mifsud insist. No other minority contractor received more than three unbid contracts.

When Zajac began asking about Banks’ construction job and proof of payment, Mifsud and Bartunek tried to pressure the Beacon Journal management not to publish the story. In fact, Bartunek’s attorney, Megan Peters, even sent Zajac a threatening letter claiming the now-wife of the governor’s chief of staff was not a public figure. Someone in the guv’s office purportedly leaked the letter to a few select journalists in an obvious attempt to intimidate other reporters from jumping on the scandal. Christopher Davey of the Cincinnati Enquirer -a paper that has ignored the scandal -received a copy. Coincidentally, Davey was just hired as a communications spokesperson for Attorney General Betty Montgomery starting this week.

Meanwhile, Mifsud got Alan Johnson of the Dispatch to spin his damage control in a preemptive strike piece against Zajac’s piece in the June 29 edition. Zajac’s front page article appeared the next day, June 30. Johnson’s piece now stands as a pathetic orphan. Essentially, the article informs us that Mifsud had called upon the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate him and immediately clear him. Notably, the Dispatch failed to print or mention the wire version of Zajac’s story the next day.

The Dispatch’s attempts to paper over the scandal were soon done in by Tommy Banks. Another Dispatch reporter, John Futty, was hot on Tommy’s trail in the local South of Main scandal. So, in one of the most bizarre layout decisions in Dispatch history, Johnson spun Mifsud’s prenuptial agreement and no financial interest in the property angle on page two of the Metro section on July 2. Johnson’s article refers to Thomas G. Banks of Banks Carbone Construction. Directly underneath Johnson’s story is a continuation of Futty’s front page article. Futty tells us that the same Mr. Banks, of T.G. Banks Special Projects Division and T.G. Banks & Associates, owes the city more than $12,000 in back taxes and the Bureau of Workers Compensation $131,000 in premiums. Undaunted, Banks copped the Billy Milligan defense with Futty. His evil corporate self headed T.G. Banks & Associates-it had the liens against it; the Good Tommy ran Special Projects and owed no money. And Tommy’s good friend Police Chief Jackson had his police department investigating the non-profit South of Main Development Corporation, whose subsequent demise allowed Banks to take over all their construction contracts with the city.

Turns out, Tommy is also civic-minded, giving big bucks to Mayor Greg Lashutka. And the mayor’s lovely wife saw fit to represent T.G. in a lawsuit. I’m also not quite sure whether it was the Good or Bad Tommy who brags about having built a garage for John Wolfe. Anyway, it seems Tommy’s just one lucky guy. After all, he was awarded a big COSI contract and one of the four people voting on it was the mayor’s then-Chief of Staff Bruce Johnson.

Looks like Tommy is going to do for the mayor what he’s already doing for the governor.