Rick Anthony is considered so indispensable that he was hired back at the Ohio Casino Control Commission — and promoted to its No. 2 position late last year — despite his criminal conviction for dereliction of duty as a public official.
Anthony was placed on leave for seven months as operations manager of the casino commission in 2013 after Ohio's inspector general found that he improperly failed to issue $30 million in tax refunds and interest owed to businesses during his prior service as a deputy state tax commissioner.
He resigned from his casino job July 11, 2014, shortly before he pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of dereliction of duty and received a $750 fine in Franklin County Municipal Court.
An investigation by the office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said that Anthony "initially could not recall" the unpaid tax refunds and "did not recall" instructing staff to withhold the payment of tax refunds and interest dating prior to mid-2009 — a claim contradicted by emails and other employees.
Nearly 18 months after quitting, Anthony was hired back in late 2015 as operations manager the Casino Control Commission when Executive Director Matthew Schuler asked him to return. In December, Schuler promoted Anthony to deputy executive director. He received a 23-percent raise to $100,006 a year.
Schuler said since Anthony's request to seal his criminal case was granted, commission officials cannot discuss the conviction as it relates to Anthony's re-employment at the agency that oversees Ohio's four casinos, the licensing of their 9,000 employees and $9 billion in annual wagers.
"It's something the commission did not consider based on Ohio law," Schuler said. "It's something we cannot and did not consider."
He added, "Rick, from day one, has been an indispensable part of the commission staff. He's one of the smartest, hard-working people I know."
Under state law, the sealing of criminal records "restores the person ... to all rights and privileges" and employers are forbidden from questioning job applicants about sealed convictions "unless the question bears a direct and substantial relationship to the position for which the person is being considered."
The commission can revoke the gaming licenses of card dealers and other casino employees who violate even minor state laws, commit crimes, or run afoul of casino rules. In one case, it revoked the license of a Cleveland casino dealer who was fired for allegedly not paying for a $1.84 can of Red Bull at the casino and failing to report his dismissal. The commission's action was overturned on appeal in the courts.
While saying those convicted of crimes deserve a second chance, Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a nonprofit good government group, saw it differently.
"It doesn't erase the fact what happened and the taxpayers of Ohio will not look kindly at this type of rehiring. It just makes government hiring practices look like an old boys' club," she said.
"When it comes to the kind of responsibility involving government work, we all should think twice about hiring someone who was derelict in their duty. The casino commission, in particular, needs government employees who are truly accountable and who can be trusted. I'm just astonished," Turcer said.
Schuler said the commission members that oversee his decisions supported giving Anthony his job back.
Commission member and former House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson said, "I'm very, very supportive, as are all members of the commission, on hiring Rick back. He's been a great employee for the commission from the very beginning."
Anthony declined a request for comment. His brief biography on the casino commission website says he has worked for the entity since its creation in 2011 — with no mention of his near-18 month separation.
Randy Ludlow is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch.