A former consultant for Wright State University is suing the school for more than $4.5 million for compensation he says is still owed him.
Ron Wine is suing Wright State and its research arm, Wright State Applied Research Corp., because they “failed to make payments under the compensation agreement” with him and his company, Ron Wine Consulting Group LLC, according to a complaint filed Thursday in Greene County Common Pleas Court.
Wine alleges breach of contract and seeks $4.53 million that he contends is still owed under a contract he had with the university, plus interest, costs and attorney’s fees.
A Dayton Daily News investigation in November found that Wright State paid Ron Wine Consulting Group nearly $2 million since 2009 — including almost $1 million in 2014, when he had no formal contract in effect — and entered into a contract last year allowing him to bill up to $1 million a year.
In return, Wine was expected to offer strategic advice on developing WSU’s research funding, and secure millions of dollars in state and federal funding.
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An investigation launched by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine into the deal found Wine didn’t have to register as a lobbyist because he didn’t spend more than 5 percent of his time lobbying.
DeWine noted in his findings that he had to rely on public records from Wright State and voluntary compliance by Wine, because his office lacks the ability to issue subpoenas to investigate violations of lobbying law.
“From 2009-2016, Ron Wine worked tirelessly for WSU and achieved record growth for WSU and secured record breaking funding and contracts which WSU had never come close to realizing in previous years,” Wine’s complaint states. “Over his tenure, Wine’s company’s efforts directly led to securing $134.73 million in new federal and state contracts for WSU, its affiliates and subcontractors.
“For many years, WSU and its president, David Hopkins, stuck to their word and paid Wine the five percent performance-based bonus they had agreed to,” the suit added.
Wine’s suit said he proposed an “installment payment plan” to Wright State to “ease the university’s burden in paying” what he says the university owes.
“But the university has refused to make any further payment to Wine in any fashion,” the suit states. “In fact, they have taken steps to discount (Ron Wine Consulting Group’s) efforts” for the university.
A Wright State spokesman said the university would have no comment Friday. Earlier this year, the university denied that there was ever a 5-percent performance bonus.
“At first, Wright State retained the Ron Wine Consulting (RWCG) group at a flat monthly rate,” WSU said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News in January. “As the scope of the work clearly began to expand, the parties agreed to an hourly rate contract.
“Ron Wine did propose a payment guide based on a 5 percent workload level. Subsequent contracts have been based solely on hourly compensation. The firm was not compensated based on percentage commission, nor did President Hopkins authorize it in an informal agreement.”
RELATED: Probe launched over WSU emails
Wine’s lawsuit said he was paid $2.2 million in performance bonuses, but the university stopped paying Wine after a state lobbying investigation, which “ultimately found no wrongdoing on the part of Wine,” the complaint says.
Two state probes into the university and its relationship with Wine found no evidence that Wine or the university broke lobbying laws or engaged in pay-to-play politics, state officials said in February.
The reviews found the amount of time Wine spent lobbying state lawmakers fell far short of the threshold that would have required him to register as a lobbyist, the Ohio attorney general’s office said.
Messages seeking comment were left for Wine and his Dayton attorney, Kenneth Ignozzi, of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz.
When asked about Wine’s lawsuit, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who is a Wright State University graduate, declined to comment.
The Dayton Daily News detailed two emails between Wine and Hopkins in which Wine advised Hopkins to ask Rosenberger for state money and offer to host a political fundraiser. That prompted Rosenberger to ask for an ethics investigation
And last year, Rosenberger told his fellow lawmakers to use caution when dealing with Wright State.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she can’t comment on Wine’s allegations because “I have absolutely no knowledge of either a contract or how much money Ron Wine has brought into the university.”
She added, “It’ll come out in court, I guess.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., said the lawsuit is another distraction from the university’s core mission of student success. “There are a lot of issues that need to be sorted out. For the sake of the students, I hope that’s happening.”
Antani praised the leadership of WSU’s trustees but added that it would be wise to bring on a new university president earlier. Hopkins is slated to retire in June.
“I’m not telling President Hopkins to delay or speed up his retirement but certainly new leadership at the university would be good.”
State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, could not be immediately reached for comment on this story.