CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, never one to pull a punch, described the troubled Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District as an “unmitigated disaster” Friday morning and acknowledged the possibility of bringing criminal charges against the leaders who authorized $779,000 in improper payments between 2009 and 2015.
“MSD is and was — I don’t know if it still is, but it was an unmitigated disaster,” Deters said. “It was unbelievable. They were using it as a cookie jar, and the truth is going to come out.”
The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office has six junior prosecutors investigating the case, which arose after Deters ordered then-state auditor Dave Yost to probe claims of mismanagement.
The subsequent audit was released in late 2018 and uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper payments, which included many made to contractors who billed at excessive rates, listed more than 24 hours of work per day on their time cards and submitted undocumented travel expenses.
One supervisor repeatedly approved sending contracts to the firm where his son worked, Yost said.
“Ratepayers are fortunate that more misspending didn’t occur, given the lack of control in place at MSD,” he added when the audit was released.
The inflated cost rolled downhill to the city and then, necessarily, to taxpayers.
Deters said Friday he did not know when the investigation would conclude but estimated it still had months ahead.
“We’ll definitely proceed civilly, but I want criminal investigations to be completed before we take civil actions,” he said.
In the wake of the 2018 audit, City Manager Patrick Duhaney insisted new controls implemented since 2015 would prevent similar mismanagement in the future. He added, however, that MSD would adjust its behavior.
“MSD is currently taking action to fine tune some of the management practices identified in the state audit, including contractor performance evaluations, invoice review and approvals, records retention, travel, and Hamilton County oversight," Duhaney wrote then.
Even if it does, its leaders may still end up on the wrong side of a grand jury.