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Not just Trump: See Ohio’s own colorful history of campaign finance crimes

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 3/31/2023 Jake Zuckerman,

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The indictment of President Donald Trump may be the biggest, loudest, and most consequential felonious campaign finance allegation these days.

But Ohioans have seen campaign finance criminal cases before before.

Ohio state government offers a sordid and colorful recent history of campaign violations, including a former governor, state representatives and mayors.

On top of those, while they weren’t quite campaign finance scandals, Ohio’s former House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, was convicted of racketeering this month. The allegation is complicated, but the gist is he took millions in bribes from a power company via contributions to a political nonprofit in exchange for a $1.3 billion bailout. And there’s Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, a Democrat who was also convicted of racketeering. He took $166,000 in bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts, jobs, raises and other help from his powerful perch. That’s not to mention smaller-scale bribery allegations in Cincinnati and Toledo city government.

Trump’s indictment has not yet been publicly filed. However, the Associated Press reports the allegation revolved around Trump’s payment of $130,000 to an adult film star to avoid political damage during his 2016 campaign. He’s presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Here are but a few recent Ohio campaign finance crimes and allegations.

Gov. Bob Taft

A Republican, Taft pleaded no contest in August 2005 to four misdemeanor charges of failing to report 52 golf outings, dinners, hockey tickets and other gifts. He paid a $4,000 fine.

Joining him on one of those golf ventures: Republican fundraiser Tom Noe, who would later go down in his own corruption scandal involving the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, part of the governor’s administration (see below).

Taft is the only Ohio governor to have faced criminal charges while in office.

Republican fundraiser Tom Noe

In 2005, Noe pleaded guilty to funneling more than $45,000 to the reelection campaign of President George Bush via about two dozen strawmen donors.

In another scandal, the state BWC invested $50 million into a rare coin business Noe ran. After a series of twists and turns involving two missing coins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a dummy set of books from the coin company, Noe was convicted of a long set of charges centered on theft of millions of the state’s dollars.

Gov. Mike DeWine commuted Noe’s sentence in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The Toledo Blade reported in 2022 that Noe, now released after serving 12 years of his 18-year sentence, still owes taxpayers more than $11 million.

State Rep. Clayton Luckie

As a Democrat in the Ohio House, Luckie in August 2012 withdrew from an election due to an ongoing criminal investigation. By October of that year, he was charged with 45 felonies revolving around political corruption like misuse of campaign funds and theft in office. By 2013, he pleaded guilty to seven felony offenses and was sentenced to three years in prison.

He later pleaded guilty to mail fraud after federal prosecutors broke up a corruption scheme involving an economic development program and Dayton’s city council.

State Sen. Sandra Williams

As a state Senator-elect in 2014, Williams received a six-month suspended jail sentence and a $1,000 fine for illegally selling Ohio State football season tickets that she bought with campaign funds and then failing to report the sale. Williams, a Democrat, was convicted of illegal campaign finance conversion and attempted election falsification.

State Rep. Ron Gerberry

A ranking House Democrat, Gerberry resigned in 2015 amid state and local investigations that determined he submitted false information in his campaign finance reports. reported at the time that Gerberry would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge that he routed campaign money through vendors in order to pay less money to the Ohio House Democratic Caucus, according to anonymous sources cited by the Youngstown Vindicator.

The Vindicator later reported that Gerberry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful compensation of a public official. He received no jail time but was required to complete 500 hours of community service and was prohibited from running for office for seven years.

Political operative and former congressional candidate Harold Russell Taub

Taub pleaded guilty to wire fraud and election law violations in 2019 for collecting more than $1.6 million in donations to fraudulent PACs that were supposed to help Ohio candidate. He spent much of the money on personal expenses like travel, cigars, and escort services.

Prosecutors say about $1.3 million of the money came from an unidentified, wealthy couple in Ohio.

Congressional chief of staff Jamie Schwartz

While not an officeholder himself, Schwartz, as campaign manager for congressional GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, stole $1.4 million over eight years from his boss’ campaign fund. He also falsified bank records and other documents and lied to the Federal Elections Commission to cover his tracks. He pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and falsification of records.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Schwartz was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Campaign contributor Benjamin Suarez

Federal prosecutors accused Suarez of promising $100,000 to prominent state officials like Congressman Jim Renacci, state Treasurer Josh Mandel and Gov. John Kasich in campaign contributions if they’d help his business dodge a consumer protection lawsuit in California.

A federal jury in 2014 acquitted Suarez and his company of several campaign finance violations and other charges. However, the jurors convicted him on one count of witness tampering.

His lawyers acknowledged at trial that Suarez and his company had mistakenly violated federal campaign laws, but they argued they had not done so “knowingly and willfully.”

He was sentenced to 15 months.

Aide to the state treasurer, Matt Borges

Earlier this month, a federal jury convicted Borges on a racketeering charge alongside Householder in what prosecutors described as the biggest public corruption case in state history.

It wasn’t his first go-around with crime in politics. In 2004, Borges, then an aide to Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of a public office for securing preferential treatment for brokers who made campaign contributions.

Prosecutors said Borges instructed the state investments director to dole out state securities business to a “short list” of politically generous brokers. He was fined $1,000.

Borges awaits sentencing on his more recent racketeering charge. Deters, who was not accused of wrongdoing, now sits on the state Supreme Court.

Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins

As the mayor of Newburgh Heights, Elkins pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted election falsification and one count of attempted theft in office (all misdemeanor offenses). Investigators found he used money from his campaign account for personal expenses 651 times for a total of $134,000 since 2015. He used the money at restaurants, bars, gas stations, big-box stores and barbershops, according to court records.

Elkins, a Democrat, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a year of probation, 200 hours of community service and a $3,000 fine.

Valley View Mayor Randall Westfall

Westfall pleaded guilty in 2014 on accusations he siphoned campaign funds to take several trips to Mexico, buy property, make car payments and pay property taxes.

Highland Heights Mayor Scott Coleman

Coleman pleaded guilty in October 2019 to a grand theft charge and was sentenced to 30 days in jail with the ability to leave for work. Coleman, a Republican, admitted to embezzling $160,000 from U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce’s campaign while he worked as the congressman’s campaign treasurer.

Jake Zuckerman covers state politics and policy. Read more of his work here .

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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