It’s been nearly four months since federal agents revealed what they called a “culture of corruption in Dayton-area politics” with the arrests of four men and said more arrests were coming.
Investigators haven’t released any additional information since then to back up those claims.
“It was an unfair statement then. I still think it’s an unfair statement,” said Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens in a recent interview.
It’s not uncommon for federal investigations to drag on with little public disclosure, experts said. And while the four arrests are notable, Owens and others said federal investigators have fallen short so far in demonstrating rampant corruption in area government.
“The evidence to this date doesn’t suggest that,” Dayton City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild said.
Others are withholding judgment.
“You need more information before we can actually wrap it up as a culture of corruption,” said Phil Plummer, former county sheriff, and current state lawmaker and Montgomery County Republican Party chairman. “It’s too shallow right now to give it that title, but it’s an ongoing investigation and we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Federal officials won’t say much about the case, though more charges are still expected, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jennifer Thornton.
“This investigation remains ongoing and we continue to anticipate additional defendants and charges,” she said.
The clock is ticking — the statute of limitations on public corruption cases is five years. And it’s not clear whether the FBI’s involvement in the Oregon District shooting investigation will impact the corruption probe.
Records obtained by the Dayton Daily News show the investigation has been going on for years. One of the charges alleges lying to the FBI in a 2015 interview. Investigators in 2017 subpoenaed records pertaining to two companies.
Other details that have emerged since the arrest include claims by one of the suspects, Brian Higgins — who is accused of insurance fraud, not any public corruption-related charges — that it was the government’s informant who pocketed money not him.
Also revealed in court documents was the scale of the crimes committed by former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie. Luckie pleaded guilty to misleading a city of Dayton minority set-aside program and benefiting $2,000.
Timing approaches elections
City commission candidate David Esrati said that if local people and institutions are corrupt — which he believes they are — it’s irresponsible for FBI Special Agent Joseph Deters and U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman to not name them. Otherwise, potentially corrupt people and organizations continue to have access to the public trough.
“That the feds used our money to investigate public officials and have not revealed the contents of the wire taps of public officials is an embarrassment,” he said. “I think it’s time that Mr. Glassman and Mr. Deters show us the next phase.”
City officials say they are trying to get to the bottom of the allegations with their own internal reviews.
“No, I don’t think there is a culture of corruption, but it’s on us to make sure we prove that and make sure it’s true,” City Commissioner Matt Joseph said.
“I think what we need to do is keep doing what we’re doing, be as vigilant as we can,” he said, “and over time hopefully that phrase will fade in people’s minds.”
The first round of indictments was unsealed a week before the primary election narrowing down candidates for city commission, though some of the indictments were filed months prior. The general election is approaching in November, with Joseph, Esrati, Shenise Turner-Sloss and incumbent Chris Shaw on the ballot.
Turner-Sloss and Shaw didn’t return requests for comment.
“If (future charges) came down a week before the general election, it would raise questions,” said Owens, noting he has no reason to believe there’s any political aspect to the Department of Justice’s decisions.
Federal officials would not answer whether they take into consideration the timing of enforcement actions and how they might impact the political process. They also wouldn’t answer questions about the status of the investigation or expand on what Deters meant by “culture of corruption.”
“As this is an ongoing investigation, no further details can be released at this time,” FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren said.
Expert: Complex cases take time
Former federal prosecutor Mike Crites said he has seen cases that took five years to complete because of the complexity of the crime and number of people involved. Crites said he has also seen cases involving up to a million documents.
Federal agents have an array of covert tools at their disposal, according to Pete Davis, a former attorney with the U.S. Justice Department.: “Electronic surveillance, physical searches, GPS surveillance, confidential human sources, undercover operations,” Davis said.
It can be difficult for people who find out they are targets of the investigation and haven’t been charged yet, Crites said.
“It’s hell for them because they don’t know how long it’s going to go on. You can imagine waking up every morning not knowing if an indictment is going to be returned and someone’s going to come knocking on your door, put you in handcuffs and take you down to the federal court,” Crites said.
A federal subpoena obtained by the Dayton Daily News show that federal agents have looked into the work of demolition contractor Steve Rauch, as well as the company Green Star Trucking, which is owned by former Trotwood mayor Joyce Sutton-Cameron. Another subpoena was for records of former city planning director Aaron Sorrell.
It’s possible some of the people on investigators’ radar don’t know it, Davis said.
Of the four men indicted, three have pleaded not guilty. Luckie has pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud the Dayton minority contracting program by making it seem like his minority company was doing work actually being done by an ineligible company. The plea agreement showed Luckie netted $2,000. He is scheduled for sentencing in November.
The other three men charged are former city commissioner Joey Williams, former city employee (and Huber Heights city councilman) RoShawn Winburn and businessman Brian Higgins.
They are all accused of separate schemes.
Higgins’ attorney filed in federal court a request for more information from prosecutors, saying that the evidence available so far shows a governmental informant pocketed money, not him.
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