COLUMBUS — The former director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and about 40 state employees improperly accepted a free Lake Erie fishing trip two years ago, the state inspector general’s office has determined.
James Zehringer, the former director, and the employees — some of whom claimed overtime pay — accepted the trip as part of what was billed “Fish Ashtabula Day,” according to the report. Some state lawmakers also attended, the report noted, but their presence was deemed proper.
The office did not make any criminal referrals concerning the investigation. However, the state Ethics Commission told Zehringer and the employees to file amended financial disclosure statements about the free trip in July 2018 and its value.
State ethics laws prohibits public officials and employees from accepting gifts of substantial value. However, the investigation found that state officials employed a “questionable” interpretation of state law that the fishing trip could be accepted as a donation to the agency to promote tourism.
The inspector general’s report found state officials had an ethics conflict in accepting the free charter boat trip during the administration of former Gov. John Kasich because the agency licenses fishing guides.
A telephone number for Zehringer could not be located Wednesday.