Tuesday, October 11, 2005

 

The Fritz Wenzel's mystery

Everyone's seen the Salon post on ex-Blade reporter Fritz Wenzel, right? (If not, check it out here, and if you're not a subscriber you will have to sit thru an ad, so no big deal).

In it, Bill Frogameni reports that several sources say Wenzel knew about all the Noe business (and then some) as early as January 2004. For the record, Wenzel says he knew about it in March 2004 and told his editors at the Blade about this. Wenzel, according to the story, learned about the Noe money laundering allegations from Joe Kidd, the Republican and former elections director of Lucas Count.

Not that Frogameni needs us to confirm his reporting, but we had been hearing similar rumblings for sometime and have been trying to find out if Wenzel had yet been called into any meetings with one of the federal/state investigation teams. Our working assumption was that he had since there were starting to be several rumors about Wenzel floating around.

It should also be noted that some large parts of Frogameni's story aren't really new and in some details contradicted by a story by Joe Strupp that ran in Editor & Publisher in August.

E&P was the first outlet we know of to report that Wenzel knew of some aspects of Noe's activities in March 2004, but didn't mention Joe Kidd as the source. The link to Joe Kidd moves this story forward quite a bit since Kidd would have been able to provide first-hand information about his $2,000 "donation" when, heretofore, the common wisdom was that the Noe story in 2004 was just "rumors."

But several strands and major questions are left hanging from the story. Here are but a few:

1) Did or didn't Wenzel tell the Blade editors about the money laundering allegations and/or Joe Kidd? Frogameni emphatically reports the editors deny it:
The Blade's special projects editor, Dave Murray, who was Wenzel's assigning editor at the time, says Wenzel would have come to him with any such information about Noe. But, Murray says, "he never came to me, and, as far as I know, he never came to other Blade editors."
This editors-knew-nothing line is contradicted by Joe Strupp/E&P:
Dave Murray, the Blade's special projects editor, told me the paper had a reporter check out the rumors, and found that Wenzel knew nothing.

. . .

"Did he hear things?" Assistant Managing Editor LuAnn Sharp asked, referring to Wenzel. "Yes, but we all heard things. Many reporters had heard about those rumors."
Why didn't Frogameni ask about these conflicting statements from the editors?

2) Has Wenzel actually lawyered up? Frogameni says Wenzel replied to his inquiries thru attorney Mark Berling who is not directly described as Wenzel's attorney. Is he? Who is paying for him?

3) Has Wenzel been questioned by investigators and has he testified before any grand juries? We've gotta believe he has or he knows it's coming, or why go use a lawyer's carefully parsed words to respond to a reporter. Also, Frogameni is a little inaccurate when he says that that Wenzel's blog entries were pulled down shortly after he was associated with Jean Schmidt and her campaign. Actually, the links to his "diaries" were removed from the his home page but the diaries, themselves, remained available to anyone who played with the url's. It's only recently that the web site has been scrubbed, presumably on the advice of some sage lawyer. We checked the Wayback Machine but nothing is turning up there. Anyone have archived copies of Wenzel's diaries? They didn't seem to have much in them when we first read them but may be worth another review now.

4) Speaking of parsing, isn't there a lot of wiggle room in the statement released by his attorney, "When a source conveyed an allegation about Tom Noe's possible involvement with campaign finance irregularities in the spring of 2004, I promptly informed Blade editors about what I had been told."? That pretty much evades the questions of whether he knew anything in January 2004, and precisely when he claims he told the editors.

5) Who is the "Toledo Republican Party insider familiar with the affairs of the Board of Elections" that Frogameni uses as his source? We, of course, don't fault Frogameni for not revealing his/her name, but we are pretty sure we know who it is. There is at least one relatively low-level Lucas County political operative who, according to our own sources, is running scared and very recently trying to lawyer up because he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. If the stories being connect to this operative are correct, there is a major shit-storm coming.

6) Is his son, P. J. (Phillip) Wenzel involved? P. J. has been a rising operative in the Ohio GOP for several years, and we hear he has been angling for a national position within the RNC or the White House. He had been the ORP's main contact for SE Ohio until he was recently switched to the SW Ohio region. Most interestingly, a blog by a member of the ORP state central committe reports that "P.J. Wenzel is now the Political Director for the campaign to defeat the [Reform Ohio Now] ballot issues.

7) What's one to make of the Frogameni's reporting that "Blade editor in chief Block and other editors say they don't believe that Wenzel intentionally sat on the story."? What an odd reply. Even odder are Block's bizarre rationalizations about Wenzel in the E&P piece:
"He might have been lazy with the story. But I'm sure any reporter on a beat makes a mistake with a story."
. . .

"He had to get everything — the municipal, county and state and national [stories]," Block said. "It is a rumor beat, and a lot of what passes on the political beat is gossip. They hear a lot of stuff."
Given that Coingate and the possible toppling of the Ohio Republican empire may be the biggest story in Ohio in the decade, why is Block trying to polish this turd?

8) Hats off to Paula Ross at the Toledo City Paper for being one of the few reporters (writing before the E&P story) who had no problem with pointing out the obvious about Wenzel's lack of stories about Coingate. We can't find a workable link to her archives, but this post and laughable string of comments written by some detractors gives a sense of her good instincts about Wenzel:
"The Blade investigation of Coingate and of the alleged money laundering by Tom Noe on behalf of the Bush campaign is a big deal. Why was the Blade’s political reporter conspicuously absent from those stories, which were well under way before his departure from the paper?"

"Add to these questions the fact that Wenzel’s twentysomething son Phillip is employed by the Ohio Republican Party and the situation gets odder and odder."

"Are we about to receive a new installment of Noe scandal stories, featuring Fritz Wenzel? I know a lot of Democrats who would line up at midnight for that."
We are sure there is much more to come about Wenzel, but also about what Noe was up to that has yet to be made public. The teams of investigators aren't just punching in at the time clock. And there is some potential for some of this to hit before Nov. 8.

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