The FBI squad that arrested four prominent Dayton men last week has exposed public corruption schemes that included greedy politicians on the take, a fugitive making an international escape to Pakistan and a state trooper who groped and stalked women he stopped on Ohio roads.
Some in the community have questioned if the indictments last week that allege a “culture of corruption” in Dayton area politics reflect a racial bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s task force. Federal and state officials deny that claim.
Four African American men — three of whom are from high-profile Dayton political families — appeared in handcuffs in U.S. District Court on April 30, where they entered not guilty pleas.
FBI agents allege they found evidence of a $50,000 bribe paid out in part through work on an elected official’s home patio, $100,000 in insurance fraud for a 600-gallon leaky aquarium in an 8,000-square-foot home, a city worker taking more than $20,000 in bribes and dishing out insider info on upcoming demolition projects, and a former state lawmaker kicking off a fraud just months after he was released from state prison for public corruption.
“The conversation in the African American community is that they’re targeting African American males,” said Tom Roberts, a former state lawmaker and Ohio Civil Rights Commission member who is president of the Ohio NAACP. “Hopefully that is not the case.”
Dayton unit NAACP President Derrick Foward said he will withhold judgment until sees the facts.
“Nobody should be rushing to judgment,” Foward said. “They should wait and see the evidence and what other indictments come from this investigation before they pass judgment.”
Local activist Chad White of the Dayton chapter of the SCLC said: “If there is a culture of corruption, why is it that the culture only seems to be endemic within those who are African American males? Hopefully the truth will come out and this will be dealt with.”
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin Glassman said investigators follow the facts.
“All we go with is where the evidence leads. There is absolutely no prosecutorial or investigatory decisions ever made with respect to anyone’s race, creed, color, anything like that. We are strictly talking about the crimes charged,” he said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who as state attorney general contributed personnel to the FBI squad, agreed, saying, “I don’t have any evidence that anybody is being targeted because of their race.”
Glassman said the four — former Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams, former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie, city of Dayton employee RoShawn Winburn and local businessman Brian Higgins — are the first wave. He promised more indictments.
An indictment contains accusations that the government must prove in court.
“It’s hard for the community to see but let’s remember they are innocent until proven guilty and let’s see where it goes,” Roberts said.
This investigation marks the second time Luckie has been charged in a public corruption case investigated by the same FBI team. In 2012, authorities found he diverted roughly $130,000 from his state campaign account for personal use, such as ATM withdrawals at casinos and buying furniture and jewelry. He pleaded guilty to money laundering, theft and other charges in 2013 and served three years in state prison.
“We all learned this as children: You don’t cheat, lie or steal. And when you’re an elected official, that goes even tenfold,” then-FBI Special Agent in Charge Ed Hanko said in 2012 when Luckie was indicted. “Mr. Luckie just never learned that there are some tenets in life that we all go by.”
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. That included a squad in Columbus in 2012. Now led by FBI Supervisory Agent Jeffrey Williams, the team focuses on cases in the state capital and 44 counties in the southern district of Ohio.
The team uses sophisticated investigation techniques, including wire taps, surveillance, undercover stings, GPS tracking devices, confidential informants, subpoenas and search warrants. Members include lawyers, forensic auditors, accountants and others — most are FBI but some are from the Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Auditor’s offices.
Among the 39 people who have been publicly identified or charged or convicted through the team’s investigations, about half are white and 90 percent are male, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis.
Targets have included charter school officials, dirty cops, state lawmakers, lobbyists and others.
The Dayton Daily News broke the story that the FBI public corruption squad is investigating Clarksville Republican Cliff Rosenberger, prompting him to resign as speaker of the Ohio House in April 2018. FBI agents raided Rosenberger’s home and storage unit in May 2018 and the House in August released search warrant and subpoena records it received from federal authorities.
A seven-page search warrant shows federal authorities are trying to build a public corruption case against Rosenberger, who is Korean-American, and three payday lending industry representatives — each of whom are white.
More than a year later, the case is ongoing and none of the targets have been charged with any crimes. Rosenberger has said all his actions as speaker were lawful and ethical.
One of the highest profile cases investigated by the team led to the conviction of and prison sentences for the deputy state treasurer Amer Ahmad and his three co-conspirators.
A May 2010 story in the Dayton Daily News about a Boston-based bank hiring Ahmad’s friend, M. Noure Alo, as its lobbyist as the bank competed for a massive state contract led the FBI to open an investigation. Ahmad is Pakistani-American and Alo is Syrian-American while the other two men involved are white.
In the state treasurer’s office, Ahmad re-wrote the investment policy and began steering lucrative trading work to his high school buddy, who made $3.2 million in fees and kicked back more than $520,000 to Ahmad via conduits, including Alo.
Ahmad, an Ivy League educated financial whiz who grew up in Ohio, bolted just before he was to report to federal court for sentencing. He flew to San Diego, took a taxi to the Mexico border, walked into Tijuana, got a fake passport under a different name, and flew to Lahore, Pakistan, where he was intercepted by authorities. After 17 months in jail in Pakistan, he returned to the U.S. for sentencing.
Now in federal prison, Ahmad is due to be released in May 2027.
The FBI team is also responsible for investigating civil rights violations involving certain police misconduct.
It has worked cases against nine officers, including former Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Bryan Lee who was sentenced to 60 months in prison for cyberstalking and civil rights violations. Six other officers were convicted in various cases.
The squad is also leading the investigation against Columbus police vice squad detective Andrew K. Mitchell.
Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to seven federal charges of tampering with witnesses, lying to investigators and kidnapping women under the guise of arrest and forcing them to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for their freedom. Mitchell is also facing murder and voluntary manslaughter charges in Franklin County.
About half of the officers are white.
Glassman said there is no price tag limiting the pursuit of public corruption cases.
“It’s that important,” he said.