Miami Twp. candidate claims extortion; prosecutor’s office says ‘no evidence’ of that

John Gomez, a candidate for Miami Twp. trustee, sent a press release Oct. 25, 2021, alleging Miami Twp. Trustee John Morris used an email to pressure a vendor into donating to Montgomery County Township Association, a volunteer non-profit that he serves on as president. FILE PHOTO
Caption
John Gomez, a candidate for Miami Twp. trustee, sent a press release Oct. 25, 2021, alleging Miami Twp. Trustee John Morris used an email to pressure a vendor into donating to Montgomery County Township Association, a volunteer non-profit that he serves on as president. FILE PHOTO

Credit: Ty Greenlees

John Gomez, a candidate vying for a spot on the Miami Twp. Board of Trustees, on Monday accused one of his incumbent opponents, John Morris, of attempting to force a vendor to contribute to a nonprofit in an August email.

Morris said in a follow-up email in August that he “totally screwed up the message,” and acknowledged Monday that he should not have sent the message from his township account. But he said it was not extortion.

Officials from the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office who have reviewed the issue said they’ve seen “no evidence of criminal extortion or public corruption.”

Gomez sent a press release Monday alleging that Morris had pressured people into donating to the Montgomery County Township Association, a volunteer nonprofit for which Morris serves as president. Along with the release, Gomez sent an exchange of emails, one that started Aug. 25 with a solicitation made by Morris.

In that email sent by blind carbon-copy to numerous vendors, Morris writes that he is reaching out to them “because they do business with at least one of the nine townships in Montgomery County.”

“If you are interested in keeping and/or growing this business, possibly also winning more work with Montgomery County, you should become a sponsor of the Montgomery County Township Association Holiday Awards Gala on November 18, 2021,” Morris wrote.

Joe Mason of New Jersey-based graphics company First Signs of Fire responded to Morris’ solicitation the same day, calling Morris’ email “extortion” and saying he intended to pursue the matter to “the fullest extent of the law.” He carbon-copied the message to both Miami Twp. Administrator Ron Hess and Daniel Brandt, chief of the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office criminal division.

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Morris replied, thanking Mason for his email and saying “it is always a tough lesson when someone points out a poorly worded email. In my efforts to shorten the text, I clearly totally screwed up the message.”

He apologized to Mason and sent him a corrected version that read: “If you are interested in keeping in touch with old friends and/or growing this business through new relationships, possibly also leading to winning more work with Montgomery County, you should become a sponsor of the Montgomery County Township Association Holiday Awards Gala ...”

He also told Mason that the computer auto-generated a signature line that included his township Trustee title, rather than his MCTA title..

In his press release, Gomez labeled Morris’s actions “attempted extortion” and said they were “reprehensible and shows he is unfit for office.”

Gomez said Morris’ actions were referred to the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office and to the Ohio Ethics Commission for investigation by the Miami Twp. administrator.

But Administrator Ron Hess told the Dayton Daily News on Monday that he did not refer the matter to the prosecutor’s office.

Hess said he had no comment on the allegations because Morris’ actions “were not a function of his duties with Miami Twp. and were done in the capacity of the Montgomery County Township Association.”

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Brandt, of the prosecutor’s office, told this news outlet that, “to the best of our knowledge, there is no active criminal investigation regarding this matter. Moreover, from the information that we have received, there is no evidence of criminal extortion or public corruption.”

Any complaint filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission by any individual is confidential no matter which individual files it and the commission itself cannot divulge such a complaint.

Gomez said that even if the matter was not referred to the prosecutor’s office for criminal charges, “it should have been.” “This is a very clear case of someone saying ‘If you want to keep your contracts, give us money,’” Gomez said.

Morris said his emails were “by no means extortion in any way,” and said Gomez’s actions were “done for political gain.”

“I had nothing to personally gain from somebody sponsoring a nonprofit event,” Morris said. “If this is extortion, every nonprofit fundraiser is guilty of extortion.”

Morris said that “looking back, I wish I would not have used the township’s email account,” adding that the Montgomery County Township Association is a non-profit organization that cannot afford its own email accounts.

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