Concerns Linger About Alcohol, Inmates Inside Governor's Residence

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Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles is investigating how Gov. Ted Strickland's administration handled a suspected drug deal at his residence, 10 Investigates' Paul Aker reported Tuesday.

The investigation centers on an Ohio State Highway Patrol decision to stop a sting operation and warn a woman who it believed would be dropping drugs at the Governor's Residence.

A plan was in place to arrest the woman in a sting operation just after she made the drop, but Ohio Public Safety Director Cathy Collins-Taylor called off the sting and told state troopers to warn the woman instead.

WEB EXTRA:  Incident At Governor's Residence | SPECIAL SECTION:  10 Investigates

Christopher Preece, a former inmate who worked inside Strickland's Bexley residence as part of a Pickaway Correctional Institutional inmate employment program, said it helped turn his life around.

("The program) helped me see that there was another side to life than I was living," Preece said.

One of Preece's duties was to work as a waiter at parties hosted at the residence.  He and the others served beer and wine, Aker reported.

"(The beverages) would be on a tray," Preece said.  "We would just walk around."

According to Preece, the alcohol was plenty of temptation for someone who is locked up.

"That's just something you have to overcome," Preece said.  "I had it out there, but I was able to overcome it."

Strickland said that serving alcohol does not mean that inmates are using it.

"They may serve wine at a table as they are pouring wine, but they do not in any way have access to the consumption of wine," Strickland said.

Staff at the Governor's Residence suspected alcohol may have been used by inmates on several occasions, even though Strickland had a hard time recalling that when he spoke with Aker on Tuesday.

"I know of no evidence that says inmates have used or had access to alcohol," Strickland said.

Records from the Ohio Department of Corrections that were obtained by 10 Investigates tell a different story.  They showed that in May 2009, Strickland's staff found a bottle of vodka that turned up in May in a "highly unusual" location.

Staff members then warned the inmate crew to not possess alcohol.   In August, records showed that the staff found four beers hidden in Strickland's garden after a party.

Inmates were suspected, the records showed.  They also showed that Strickland was notified but the report said Strickland said it was a one-time incident.

Charlie Crawford, another inmate who worked at the Governor's Residence in 2008, tripped on a brook and fell through a window, according to Preece.

"I heard he had been drinking," Preece said.

Records showed that Crawford had to go to the hospital after falling through a pane glass window.  The records also showed that inmates later said he was drinking.

The allegations were disputed by a staff member who determined there was no evidence of that since she did not smell alcohol on Crawford.  She concluded three empty bottles of wine and rum that staff had found hidden away on the property were not connected.

A Pickaway Correctional Institution investigator agreed with that conclusion, Aker reported.

Even so, an Ohio Department of Corrections report about the incident showed that the Pickaway Correctional Institution was troubled.  According to the report, Pickaway Correctional Institution is concerned about the daily supervision of the offenders.

Strickland said that the prison did not share its concerns with him and would not directly answer Aker's questions about whether he has ever prevented a change to the program.

After the Crawford incident, a report said that Strickland's staff started locking the area where alcohol was stored.  It mentioned that the staff also started watching inmates more closely when alcohol was out.

Stay with 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for continuing coverage.

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February 17, 2010:  10 Investigates' Probe Prompts Senate Hearing
February 2, 2010:   Patrol Changes Investigation Involving Major 
February 1, 2010:   Ex-Colonel Wants Investigation Into Alleged Gov. Residence Plot
January 29, 2010:   Ohio Highway Patrol Official Ousted Over Alleged Gov. Residence Plot
January 28, 2010:   Strickland Confident How Patrol Handled Sting Outside His Mansion
January 27, 2010:   Woman At Center Of Alleged Drug Deal Governor's Mansion Explains Ordeal
January 26, 2010:   Patrol Tips Off Woman Suspected In Drug Deal At Governor's Mansion