Ex-federal prosecutor faces ethics complaint over behavior towards intern

U.S. Justice Department building is seen in Washington
U.S. Justice Department building is seen in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
  • Ohio disciplinary counsel brings ethics case against former assistant U.S. attorney in Akron
  • Professional misconduct claim tied to association with a then-law school intern

(Reuters) - A former federal prosecutor in Akron, Ohio, has been accused by the state's attorney discipline office of workplace misconduct involving a then-law school intern who said at one point she tried to block communications from him, according to an ethics complaint.

The assistant U.S. attorney, Mark S. Bennett, who has since resigned from the Justice Department, allegedly asked the intern to send nude photos and discussed his sex life with her, the Ohio office of disciplinary counsel said in its Aug. 18 complaint.

The unnamed intern, who was 24 at the time of the alleged misconduct, also said Bennett touched her chest with the back of his hand while reaching across her body inside a law library, according to the complaint.

Reached by phone, Bennett on Monday said he was walking into court and did not comment. He did not immediately respond to emailed questions, including on whether he disputed the evidence stated in the complaint.

His lawyer, Richard Koblentz of Koblentz, Penvose & Froning, said, "we are very early on in the process, and we are in the process of speaking with the disciplinary counsel's office."

Ohio's attorney disciplinary counsel, Joseph Caligiuri, declined to comment.

The case against Bennett is pending before the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct. He was accused of "conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer's fitness to practice law."

Any answer from Bennett would go before a three-member panel, tasked with weighing whether there was an attorney rule violation. Panel decisions are reviewed by the full board, and ultimately the Ohio Supreme Court.

The U.S. Attorney's Office honored Bennett, then 45, in 2015, for his "tenacious" work on mortgage-fraud prosecutions. Bennett joined the office in 2007, DOJ's public commendation said.

The intern met Bennett in 2017 as part of her internship at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Akron, the complaint said.

Caligiuri's office said the DOJ's inspector general investigated Bennett after the intern "informed a colleague about her interactions" with him, according to the complaint.

"As a result of the investigation, [Bennett] resigned from the [U.S. Attorney's Office] and subsequently reported his actions to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel," the complaint said.

A Justice Department spokesperson on Monday did not immediately comment on how the DOJ's inspector general office resolved its investigation of Bennett.

Bennett registered a law office in 2020 in northern Ohio, state records show.

The case is Ohio Disciplinary Counsel v. Bennett, Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio, No. 2022-034.

For Ohio disciplinary counsel's office: Joseph Caligiuri

For Bennett: Richard Koblentz of Koblentz, Penvose & Froning

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