By Laura A. Bischoff - Columbus BureauJosh Sweigart - Dayton Daily News
Updated June 9, 2019
Steve Rauch — the long-time go-to contractor who has torn down hundreds of buildings in the region, many paid for with millions of tax dollars — started his business with $500 in capital.
Rauch now faces state criminal charges in an environmental case and federal investigators have subpoenaed records about his business dealings with the city of Dayton as part of a separate public corruption case. He hasn’t been charged in the federal corruption investigation.
The Dayton Daily News reviewed business, land, court and elections records to reveal how Rauch built a business empire that now reaches across the Dayton region, shaping its physical, political and charitable landscape. Along the way, he has weathered controversies, the newspaper found, though none as serious as his current legal troubles.
The city of Dayton received a grand jury subpoena on Nov. 14, 2017, which was recently obtained by the Dayton Daily News. It ordered the city to turn over contracts, bids and internal communications.
The subpoena requested records relating to Rauch and his companies. It also sought documents related to former Trotwood mayor Joyce Sutton Cameron, her husband and how her company Green Star Trucking was certified by the city as a minority- and woman-owned business.
Both Rauch and Sutton Cameron have said previously they don’t know why federal authorities asked for records related to their businesses.
Reached by phone last week, Rauch declined to talk about his business operations, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We’re holding our own and we’ve done nothing wrong, so that’s all I can tell you,” he said.
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On April 30, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted four Dayton men on federal charges — former city commissioner Joey Williams, former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie, city employee RoShawn Winburn and business owner Brian Higgins. All four have pleaded not guilty.
“Now that the investigation is open and overt, I expect there to be more arrests and more charges going forward,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin Glassman in April.
Three of the four indictments make reference to demolition contracts, though none list the names of any specific companies.
When asked if Rauch is a target, Glassman said documents purposely obscure the identity of companies, calling them, for example, Company A or Individual A. “I’m not going to speak any further as to the identity of those individuals or companies who are identified by letters in the indictment,” Glassman said.
Millions in property
Rauch, now 64, incorporated his business in 1976 with $500 in capital, according to state records. He now personally owns property and buildings — more than 800 acres — in Montgomery County valued at $3.99-million, according to county auditor records.
He owns a cattle farm in Jefferson Twp. and in 2015 bought his Germantown home for $739,500.
In 2011, he and prominent local investor Sam Morgan formed S&S Land & Farms, which purchased another $4.8 million worth of properties.
Reached by phone last week, Morgan declined to comment on S&S Land and Farms, but said Rauch is “one of the most honest people I’ve ever dealt with.”
In 2013 S&S Land and Farms bought a small general aviation airport southeast of Trotwood for $700,000. Federal Aviation Administration records show Dahio Trotwood Airport has a 2,900-foot runway and Rauch is listed as the airport manager.
A Dayton Daily News reporter visited the property last week and found the offices locked, and buildings rusted and overgrown with weeds. Neighbors said it’s infrequently used.
“It was in bankruptcy, and we just bought it for the land,” Morgan said.
Part of Rauch’s success is that he owns one company to knock down buildings, another to haul debris and a third business — a landfill — to bury it. U.S. Department of Transportation records show Rauch Trucking has 50 vehicles and 10 drivers and logged just over 400,000 miles in 2018.
Rauch’s landfill at 1550 Soldiers Home-West Carrollton Road is one of four in Montgomery County licensed by the state to receive construction and demolition debris. Owning the landfill means he doesn’t have to pay tipping fees elsewhere.
Rauch built his demolition, trucking and landfill operations thanks in part to cash flowing from local, state and federal governments and an abundance of dilapidated buildings in the urban core.
Over the past decade, Dayton has been on a tear-down spree.
The city and its partners have knocked down more than 2,200 structures and spent more than $18 million on demolition between 2009 and 2016. A survey released in 2016 listed one in six Dayton structures as vacant or abandoned.
The city of Dayton has paid Rauch’s companies at least $2.5 million since 2012, according to payment records obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
Rauch’s businesses also have received federal awards. He was a subcontractor for a $22.4 million project to replace boilers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from 2013 to 2017. He received $1.2 million from that contract, according to records reported to the federal government by the prime contractor.
His businesses aren’t free of disputes.
• Rauch, SRI and Bearcreek Farms face five felony counts of open dumping and burning and operating a solid waste facility without a license. State officials allege he tore down a hotel and dumped mattresses and debris on land owned by the city of West Carrollton. After a hearing last week, a trial date is set for Oct. 7.
• In 2014, the city of Dayton cut off four of SRI contracts totaling $1.4 million over allegations Rauch’s workers used improper fill material and failed to remove foundations in demolitions. In October 2014, after filing suit, Rauch received payment of $493,000 from the city to settle the case. He ceased receiving city contracts until May 2016, when Rauch’s company won a $267,320 contract from the city of Dayton to demolish nuisance residential properties.
• In 2013, Rauch’s team imploded the Schwind Building and demolished parts of the former Dayton Daily News building in downtown Dayton. When redevelopment plans stalled, Rauch sued for breach of contract, the city bought parts of the newspaper land and Rauch retained ownership of the 1908 newspaper building. Development on the building is at a standstill.
• Rauch engaged in a years-long court fight with Jefferson Twp. zoning officials after the township and neighbors opposed Rauch’s plans to establish a commercial composting facility on farmland Rauch owns. The case concluded in October with the Second District Court of Appeals upholding the township’s zoning permit denial.
Charity, campaign donations
Rauch gives heavily to charity. He has donated: $1.5 million to the Kettering Health Network’s cancer center; marquee sponsorship of a charity boxing event; and more than $270,000 to purchase champion livestock auctioned at the Ohio State Fair since 2014.
Rauch also has spent thousands of dollars on state and local political campaigns over the decades.
He contributed $9,500 to Luckie, who served in the Ohio House; $5,000 to Republican Mary Taylor’s primary bid for governor in 2017; and $500 to the Republican Senate Campaign Committee in 2014.
On the local level, he has supported the campaigns of current Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former mayor Rhine McLin, and former commissioner Williams, according to Dayton Daily News archives.
Rauch gave $3,000 to Sutton Cameron’s unsuccessful bid to be reelected in 2015. This accounted for 65 percent of the $4,619 Sutton Cameron spent on her campaign, according to a campaign finance report. She lost the Trotwood mayor’s race to Mary Ann McDonald.
Asked about his charitable contributions, Rauch said last week that “it’s just like love.”
“You’ve got to give what you receive,” he said.
Josh Sweigart is a member of the Investigation & Community Impact Team for the Dayton Daily News whose stories have focused on government waste, fraud, abuse and accountability. He's won several awards for investigative reporting, including an Emmy Award and numerous awards from the Associated Press Society of Ohio and Society of Professional Journalists. Contact him on Facebook or Twitter.
STAYING WITH THE STORY
The Dayton Daily News first broke the news about a federal investigation into corruption in Dayton. The newspaper will continue to dig into this important story to find out what’s really going on. If you have tips or any information on this investigation, please call or email Josh Sweigart at 937-328-0374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.