Prison officials used inmate labor — and paid thousands to an Amish desk maker — in an attempt to get in the good graces of a prominent Ohio legislator.
An investigation by Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer found that in 2017, Ohio Penal Industries provided, free of charge, to state Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, a conference table with the House seal laser-etched in the center, plus eight chairs with an embroidered House seal in the headrests.
The table and chairs, priced at $9,313, were placed in a conference room in the House offices in the Riffe Center. The furniture was made by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's Penal Industries program, which teaches inmates vocational skills.
In an email from Penal Industries manager Dan Kinsel to John Lyon, a furniture sales manager for the program, regarding the table on Jan. 29, 2017, Kinsel wrote: “Please move forward. I will work on the logo for you. I would like to see the sample when it comes in. We need the support of the Ohio House of Representatives on OPI’s side if you know what I mean!!”
Records obtained by The Dispatch show that prisons Chief Inspector Roger Wilson emailed now-retired prisons director Gary Mohr on July 19, 2017, to report that Kinsel had ordered the custom desk for Householder.
Kinsel, who retired after being informed that he was being suspended amid Meyer's probe, could not be reached for comment.
Records show that Householder was kept updated on the construction of the furniture; invoices list his name as the delivery contact.
Investigators asked Lyon if showroom items like the table and chairs were provided free to other agencies, and he said, “… not to that level … absolutely not …”
Mohr, who retired on Aug. 31, told investigators on Oct. 11, 2017, that Householder had called to talk about a different matter and brought up the table, which Mohr said he could not discuss.
While top prisons officials knew about the free desk and chairs by mid-July, they took no action for months. Prisoner-made furniture, which also was provided for free, adorned the lobby outside Mohr's office, Meyer's report said.
Penal Industries did not send invoices to the Ohio House for the table and chairs until Oct. 17, 2017 — six days later after Meyer's investigators questioned Mohr. When the House refused to pay, the prisons department took the furniture back in November 2017. It now is stored in a prisons warehouse and available for purchase.
Householder said he was contacted in January 2017 by Penal Industries about the table.
"I agreed to display the table in the Riffe, as a way to promote the good work that the inmates at OPI do. When we learned that OPI had acted improperly, my office asked that OPI pick up the table immediately, which they did.”