“I don’t think she did anything unethical or illegal” – Erik Laursen, attorney for Tamaya Dennard
Erik Laursen speaks to reporters after his client Tamaya Dennard was released from federal custody. Dennard has been charged with bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion.
Albert Cesare, [email protected]
How endemic is public corruption in state and local governments in Ohio?
With felony charges against Jeff Pastor – the second Cincinnati board member accused of accepting bribes in 2020 – as well as corruption scandals in Toledo and the Columbus State House, the Ohio sees a wave of elected officials charged with wrongdoing.
Pastor was arrested Tuesday by FBI agents and charged with soliciting and accepting money from developers in exchange for favorable votes, prosecutors said. Pastor pleaded not guilty, but local authorities called on him to resign his seat on the council.
The wave of criminal charges against public officials may lead some to believe that Ohio has become more corrupt than ever. But experts say government misdeeds come and go – and 2020 is full of more high-profile examples.
“Public corruption is always there – when (federal authorities) look for it, they usually find it,” said Dean Valore, Cleveland attorney and former federal prosecutor. “Ohio is no longer corrupt, this is the business calendar,” indicating that it was a coincidence that the charges against some of the remaining defendants were announced within months of each other.
David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, agreed – although two separate bribery indictments against sitting council members are not for the city to brag about.
“We are performing too well,” Niven said wryly. He added that the $ 61 million scheme that former House Speaker Larry Householder is accused of orchestrating is “epic in size and scope” – but also oddly familiar.
“It’s a bigger version of a story we’ve heard before,” Niven said, noting that at the end of the day it was about paying money for favorable treatment from the government. .
Another former federal prosecutor, Henry Hockeimer, now a lawyer in Philadelphia, noted that public corruption cases often cluster because investigators uncover other crimes committed by other officials after they begin an investigation against an original target.
“When you start pulling the string, one case can lead to another – there can be a domino effect,” Hockeimer said.
Federal prosecutors have convicted 282 people in Ohio for crimes of public corruption in the 10 years ending in 2018, according to the Public Integrity Section of the US Department of Justice. That made Ohio’s convictions the 12th highest in the country.
While the recent corruption scandals of former town councilor Tamaya Dennard and the ongoing case against Householder are flashy, lower-level officials and their co-conspirators are also routinely accused of acts of corruption. dishonesty.
Nonetheless, Ohio has had its share of scandals.
Scandal in the state house
In the biggest corruption scandal to rock Ohio in years, federal investigators arrested House Speaker Householder and four others for racketeering in July for paying millions in bribes to secure a $ 1 bailout. $ 3 billion from the state of two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio.
The lawmaker, who lost the presidency days after being indicted, is accused of participating in a conspiracy to embezzle money from companies, such as the utility FirstEnergy, through black money groups and PAC.
The plan was to make the head of the family a shepherd’s law that helped factories get paid with new fees for taxpayers and fight a referendum on the bailout.
Householder, who has encountered no opposition in his bid for re-election, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Mischief in cities
Prior to Pastor’s accusations, Cincinnati had already lost a board member to corruption charges.
In June, City Councilor Tamaya Dennard pleaded guilty to honest service wire fraud after admitting to taking $ 15,000 from a lawyer in exchange for favorable votes on development projects.
Dennard continued to solicit additional bribes, saying “future aid related to the official action … was tied to additional payment,” according to court documents. She had faced charges of bribery and attempted extortion – charges that were dropped as part of her plea deal with prosecutors.
She resigned from her post on March 2.
As Dennard’s corruption case wrapped up in the summer, another urban corruption scandal erupted in Toledo after four council members were arrested and charged with accepting money from small businesses in exchange for favorable treatment.
Yvonne Harper, Gary Johnson, Tyrone Riley and Larry Sykes all face charges of corruption and extortion. The case is still pending. Three of the council members agreed to step down from public office until their case was resolved.
Sheriffs caught red-handed
Sometimes officials who break the law are people who have sworn to uphold it. Ohio corruption cases also include senior law enforcement officials.
In the fall, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader pleaded guilty to theft in the line of duty and tampering with evidence and other charges. Prosecutors said Reader nurtured a gambling habit with money he stole in criminal foreclosures and borrowed from employees.
Reader is expected to be sentenced next year. He’s not the first Ohio sheriff charged with breaking the law instead of upholding it.
Last year, former Allen County Sheriff Samuel Cish was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for soliciting and accepting bribes. He has been accused of shaking clients caught in prostitution bites for money as well as others facing gambling or other charges.
Other bribes, votes, city and state officials
Small towns in Ohio and other state lawmakers were caught taking the money.
Last year seven people, including three public officials, were charged in Dayton.
- Former City Commissioner Joey D. Williams has pleaded guilty to bribery charges for helping a demolition contractor fraudulently perform contracts for underprivileged businesses. He was sentenced to one year in federal prison.
- Former state official Clayton Luckie also pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud under the program. He was sentenced to four months in prison.
- RoShawn Winburn, a former social services official from Dayton, also pleaded guilty to one count of corruption and was sentenced to six months in prison.
In 2018, a jury found the former mayor of Niles, Ralph Infante, guilty of 22 counts of public corruption, including engaging in corrupt activities, multiple counts of tampering with evidence and theft in the performance of his duties. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Infante, who served as mayor of Niles for 24 years until 2015, has been accused of running an illegal gambling den and accepting bribes in exchange for jobs. Prosecutors said he received nearly $ 200,000 in undeclared cash, income and gifts.
State Representative W. Carlton Weddington was sentenced in 2012 to three years in prison on corruption and other charges after accepting bribes and gifts from the FBI during an operation to ‘infiltration. The Columbus Democrat was the first Ohio lawmaker to be convicted of corruption charges in a century.
In return for legislative support for a wine business, Weddington agreed to lavish trips to Miami and California, as well as campaign contributions and a $ 5,000 bribe. The wine company was a bogus set up by federal investigators.
This last big Ohio scandal
While Columbus was troubled by Householder’s political demise, the Ohio capital suffered the outrages of the past.
In 2006, Tom Noe, a Republican agent and Toledo coin dealer, pleaded guilty to theft, corruption, money laundering and counterfeiting for stealing a $ 50 million rare coin fund he supervised as an investment for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
The “Coingate” scandal also led to then-Republican Governor Bob Taft to be convicted of ethical offenses for failing to disclose golf outings and other gifts.
Just to cure you of any mistaken longing for “good old days” honesty, Ohio has had some dishonest federal officials as well.
In another past scandal, US Representative James Traficant was convicted in 2002 on 10 counts, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Former aides said the congressman demanded bribes for their wages and ordered them to work for free on his farm. Local business owners claimed he forced them to pay.
Following his conviction, the House removed the committee’s duties and ultimately voted to expel him in 2002 – only the second congressman to be expelled from the chamber since the Civil War. He served seven years in prison ending in 2009 and died in 2014.
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