Council member Charlie Winburn, surrounded by a roomful of supporters at City Hall Thursday morning, declared himself and his staff member innocent of any wrong-doing in the discovery of five boxes of material from his office in a basement storage space.
"I am pleased to announce today that the FBI and the Ohio Attorney General's office reviewed these boxes nearly two weeks ago and found absolutely no wrong-doing on the part of me or my office,'' said Winburn.
The boxes have been returned to Winburn; and he had them laid out in front of him as he spoke to the media and his supporters.
Winburn was critical of City Solicitor Paul Boggs Muething, who called in Cincinnati police officials in December after a member of the janitorial staff found the boxes in a closet in the basement of city hall.
There was concern that the boxes might contain public records that need to be preserved by law. But the staff member who put them there, Rosalind Fultz, insisted there was nothing in the boxes except some old materials and newspapers.
Winburn allowed the media and members of the public to look through the boxes after his press conferences. There were a lot of old e-mails and council reports and many old newspapers, but nothing that appeared to be related to an on-going FBI investigation in the procurement policies of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).
Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, told WVXU Thursday morning that neither Winburn nor the records from his office are under investigation.
Winburn said all along he knew nothing about the boxes. His aide, Rosalind Fultz, told the Enquirer the boxes contained mostly old newspapers and some notes, discovered they were missing from the storage area on Dec. 27.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Winburn's lawyer, Muething said that the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation became involved in early January when the FBI turned over the five boxes to them.
Cincinnati police had told the FBI about the boxes in late December, after Muething expressed concerned about the boxes that had been taken to a basement storage area by Fultz.
In her letter to Winburn's lawyer, Muething said four of the five boxes "contained what appeared to be original public records." There was concern that there may have been an improper removal of public records, Muething said.
Muething said in her letter that the city sought an outside review of the contents because of an ongoing state audit of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and an FBI investigation into procurement practices at MSD.
Muething told Winburn's lawyer in the letter that at no time did she or the Cincinnati police officials involved in sending the boxes to the FBI "assume or surmise that any criminal act had occurred, only that the circumstances warranted further investigation that we were not positioned to conduct internally."
"We understood the potential for the situation to become politically fraught and wanted to ensure that the city administration avoided all appearances of impropriety,'' Muething wrote.
Thursday morning, Winburn said there was "absolutely no intent to destroy or otherwise permanently remove original public records."
"I have stated, and still maintain, that this entire situation could have been resolved without any issue, had a common sense call been made to my office,'' Winburn said.
Winburn, a Republican, can't run for re-election this year because of the city's term limits law.
Thursday morning, one of his Democratic colleagues on council, Wendell Young, was at Winburn's press conference to show support.