FBI public corruption squad digging into Ohio cases for a decade

In short time, group has brought down several state officials including a former Dayton lawmaker and deputy state treasurer.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s resignation in the wake of FBI questions over his activities is only the latest high-profile inquiry by a public corruption investigation team that has honed in on everything from bribery among top state officials to dirty cops.

Under then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, the bureau in 2008 established public corruption as a top priority and established teams in state capitals, including a squad in Columbus in 2012.

FBI Supervisory Agent Jeffrey Williams, who spoke at a legal seminar in March 2017, said he has close to 20 agents and professionals on the public corruption squad.

“We can’t do what we do without your cooperation and input,” he said to lobbyists, lawyers and legislative staffers at the seminar. “We appreciate your tips and your assistance in fighting corruption. We can’t do it without you.”

Williams walked through high-profile corruption cases, plus the costs: erosion of public trust, honest businesses are robbed of a fair playing field and taxpayers bear the burden of higher costs

The team uses what Williams called sophisticated investigation techniques, including wire taps, surveillance, undercover stings, GPS tracking devices, confidential informants, subpoenas and search warrants.

Rarely does “pay-to-play” start with an overt request for a cash bribe, he said. Instead, it is a slippery slope that often starts with free meals and junkets.

The FBI spokesman said the bureau cannot confirm or deny any investigation. But sources familiar with the Rosenberger inquiry tell this newspaper that the FBI is looking at a four-day trip to London that the former speaker took in August 2017 that was paid for by GOPAC Education Fund. Also on the trip were at least two lobbyists from the payday lending industry.

Despite Rosenberger’s public statements in support of reforms, House Bill 123, which calls for sweeping changes for the payday lending industry, sat idle for months.

Related: Payday lending crackdown stalls in Ohio House

Here is a look at some of the high-profile public corruption cases that the FBI public corruption squad has investigated in Ohio.

1. Amer Ahmad. Ahmad served as deputy state treasurer under Democrat Kevin Boyce when he pulled off the biggest bribery and kickback scheme in state treasury history. Ahmad plead guilty in federal court in December 2013 but fled to Pakistan before sentencing. In August 2015, FBI agents traveled to the Middle East to fetch him. You can read a recap of the Dayton Daily News coverage of the case here.

2. Clayton Luckie. The former lawmaker from Dayton pleaded guilty in early 2013 to election falsification, grand theft, money laundering and other charges related to a scheme to divert some $130,000 from his campaign account for personal use at casinos, stores and elsewhere. In March 2016 he was released from prison after serving three years. You can read a recap of the Dayton Daily News coverage of the case here.

3. Carlton Weddington. The former lawmaker from Columbus pleaded guilty in 2012 to bribery charges stemming from an FBI sting operation. Williams said Weddington accepted cash bribes, campaign contributions and lavish trips in exchange for official acts.

4. Arise Academy. In October 2015, four people were sentenced to prison in a bribery case linked to a Dayton-area charter school that operated from 2008 to 2010. You can read Daily News coverage about it here.

5. Bryan Lee. The FBI investigated the case of then Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Bryan Lee, who was convicted and sent to federal prison for having sex with, groping, photographing and stalking women he stopped on Ohio roads. You can read a recap of the Daily News coverage of the case here.

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