Looks like Ohio has a first-class political scandal brewing over Joe the Plumber. After Helen Jones-Kelley tried to bluff her way out of her actions to check Joe Wurzelbacher’s records when he became a national story, the employee who conducted the search says that she’s never heard of a “famous person” investigation. Vanessa Niekamp also says her supervisors lied to her about the investigation, and then asked her to lie about it afterwards:
Vanessa Niekamp said that when she was asked to run a child-support check on Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher on Oct. 16, she thought it routine. A supervisor told her the man had contacted the state agency about his case.
Niekamp didn’t know she just had checked on “Joe the Plumber,” who was elevated the night before to presidential politics prominence as Republican John McCain’s example in a debate of an average American. …
Director Helen Jones-Kelley said her agency checks people who are “thrust into the public spotlight,” amid suggestions they may have come into money, to see if they owe support or are receiving undeserved public assistance.
Niekamp told The Dispatch she is unfamiliar with the practice of checking on the newly famous. “I’ve never done that before, I don’t know of anybody in my office who does that and I don’t remember anyone ever doing that,” she said today.
The case gets even murkier. The Dispatch, which has done yeoman work on this story, got the public records surrounding the Wurzelbacher inquiry — but Niekamp’s e-mail wasn’t included. Nor did the records indicate any redaction or gap, as required by law. Afterwards, a spokesperson for Governor Ted Strickland acknowledged the omission, saying that Niekamp’s status as a child-welfare agent exempted them from providing her e-mail.
What’s becoming apparent is that Ohio officials have something to hide. The records-check request came from an assistant deputy director for child support. When the story went public, the deputy director “literally demanded” Niekamp write the e-mail that would get them off the hook. The agency’s leadership engaged in a cover-up — and that strongly implies that a crime got committed.
Niekamp told the Dispatch that she’s seen people get fired for unauthorized records checks, and that she herself fired one employee for the violation of public trust. This has gone beyond just a mere firing. It now looks as though Helen Jones-Kelley’s staff engaged in an attempt to obstruct justice, and Jones-Kelley’s lie about the Famous People Records Check appears to be part of it.