WARREN - Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith has asked the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate the relationship between his predecessor and the president of the company that started the restoration of the covered bridge in Newton Falls.
Smith said it appears ex-engineer David DeChristofaro concealed his relationship with Dave DiRusso, president of BECDIR Construction, during litigation involving the bridge and in deposition, according to an October 2012 letter to the commission.
Chief investigative attorney Julie Korte would not confirm on Wednesday whether the commission has opened an investigation, nor could she say if the agency received Smith's request for one.
DeChristofaro denied the claims by Smith.
DiRusso said he was ''shocked'' upon hearing of Smith's request. He declined to comment further except to describe his relationship with DeChristofaro as ''professional.''
Smith, in a news release, states documents he obtained recently regarding the bridge restoration are ''questionable in nature,'' and after seeking legal advice, ''the appropriate course of action'' was to ask for an investigation by the Ethics Commission.
He declined further comment.
Included in Smith's request to the agency is a copy of a deposition from a federal wrongful termination lawsuit filed against DeChristofaro while he was in office and emails between DeChristofaro and DiRusso before DeChristofaro became engineer in 2009.
DeChristofaro said he and DiRusso invested in gas and oil wells with the same company, ''but his business relationship was not with me,'' and they shared emails about items regarding those wells.
The lawsuit over the covered bridge renovation was settled for $300,000 in April 2009, soon after DeChristofaro took office. BECDIR had been removed from the project and another company finished it.
DeChristofaro said his responses in the deposition were to the questions asked of him and if he would have been asked others, ''I would have answered truthfully.''
DeChristofaro said the lawsuit had already cost the office about $270,000 when he took over and he wanted to settle to avoid spending more money.
''I wanted to settle the lawsuit to get it off the books so we didn't have a $1.4 million liability hanging over our head,'' DeChristofaro said. ''To the credit of Brickler and Eckler, the lawyers hired out of Columbus, who I continued to use, they negotiated the settlement. They settled for $300,000, which was one-fifth of the amount we were sued for.''
County commissioners on Wednesday backed Smith, approving on his behalf a letter supporting the request of an investigation.
Commissioner Frank Fuda said the group was advised by the prosecutor's office that action taken ''would be the proper thing to do.''
''If something that was done wasn't proper, it's the duty of the commissioners and engineer to make sure it's corrected,'' Fuda said.