COLUMBUS — Boston-based State Street Bank won work worth $1.27 million from Ohio Treasurer Kevin Boyce’s office this year after hiring a lobbyist with personal connections to Boyce’s deputy treasurer.
State Street Bank was the low bidder on a subcontract to be the custodial bank for global assets at three of Ohio’s five public pension systems — a job that entails keeping track of more than $23.6 billion in assets.
No laws were broken and Boyce’s office makes a solid business case why State Street got the work. But just two days before proposals were due, the bank hired an immigration attorney with little experience in banking or lobbying to lobby for the contract.
In fact, Noure Alo’s only lobbying contract is with State Street, according to records filed with the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission.
Alo, who lives in Dublin outside Columbus, also appears to have ties to Amer Ahmad, Boyce’s deputy treasurer. They are Facebook “friends” and follow one another on Twitter. Their wives, too, are Facebook friends, and their children are pictured together on the social networking site. Alo and Ahmad’s wife attended Ohio State University law school together.
State documents also show that Alo acted as statutory agent for Five Rivers Partners LLC, a business in which Ahmad owns an interest. Alo contributed $500 to Boyce’s campaign last summer and attended a Boyce fund-raiser in January at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton.
Ahmad, however, said in an email: “Our competitive and transparent RFP process was designed to take politics, personalities and people out of the decision-making. No relationships influenced the process because it was based on competitive bidding. As a result, the State Treasury saved Ohioans over $19.7 million.”
Alo declined to answer questions about why State Street hired him, other than this email: “My relationship with Deputy Treasurer Ahmad is the same as any other lobbyist in the state of Ohio. It’s professional.”
State Street Bank declined to comment on why it picked Alo as its lobbyist.
Ahmad pointed out that State Street Bank had done some of the same work for the state treasury between 1998 and 2004.
Still, Boyce’s political opponent is questioning the deal.
“It appears that Boyce and Ahmad are steering lucrative contracts and taxpayer dollars to a suspect out-of-state bank that just happened to hire the personal attorney, business associate and fellow Mosque member of Amer Ahmad as its lobbyist,” said Joe Aquilino, spokesman for the campaign of Republican Josh Mandel. “The deeper you dig, the worse this looks.”
By law, custodial bank contracts must be bid out every two years but the custodial subcontracts for international assets may be awarded at the treasurer’s discretion. Boyce is the first Ohio treasurer to bid out both parts, a move that is expected to save Ohio taxpayers $19.7 million over two years, Ahmad said.
In May 2008, Ahmad, 35, left an investment banking career in Chicago to work for then state treasurer Richard Cordray. Boyce kept him on staff when he was appointed treasurer in 2009. Ahmad’s credentials are top-drawer: a bachelor’s from Columbia University; a masters in business administration from Harvard University; a Rhodes Scholar semi-finalist; and a decade in investment banking.
The state of California is currently suing State Street Bank, alleging that the bank cheated two of California’s largest pension systems by overcharging for foreign exchange trades.
Ahmad noted that many large banks are in litigation with public pension systems. If pending litigation disqualified a bank from bidding on treasury work, few would be left to be considered, he said. State Street is among the four largest custodial banks in the world, he said.
Contact this reporter at (614) 224-1624 or lbischoff@Dayton DailyNews.com.