The investigation that resulted in Wednesday’s shocking 49-count criminal indictment against Rep. Clayton Luckie started with one $300 campaign donation in 2010 that was improperly omitted from the Dayton Democrat’s finance reports.
From there, a forensic accountant at the Federal Bureau of Investigation followed a paper trail that revealed an alleged scheme by Luckie to siphon off as much as $130,000 in campaign cash for spending at casinos and furniture, jewelry and clothing stores, making a payment on a home equity loan and transferring money into his personal bank accounts, authorities said.
Luckie pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the 49 counts — including 45 felony counts — relating to the alleged theft of money from his campaign account beginning six years ago.
In a day of twists, Luckie developed a health issue while being booked at the Franklin County Jail and was taken to a Columbus area hospital, Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Blake said. The episode came just after Luckie was led away in handcuffs by FBI agents in downtown Columbus to the jail.
After he was treated at the hospital, Luckie appeared before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Guy L. Reece II in jail garb and was released on a $100,000 signature bond.
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FBI Agent in Charge Ed Hanko of the Cincinnati field office outlined how the investigation unfolded. The initial flagged contribution was from a pay day lending group that reported the donation that was missing on Luckie’s campaign finance reports. Investigators then quickly discovered a pattern of falsifications and illegal activity, Hanko said. Even after agents interviewed Luckie in March 2012, he continued to file bogus campaign finance records with the Ohio Secretary of State, according to Hanko.
“So in my mind, it’s a very simple case. We all learned this as children: You don’t cheat, lie or steal. And when you’re an elected official, that goes even tenfold,” Hanko said at a press conference. “Mr. Luckie just never learned that there are some tenets in life that we all go by.”
Luckie refused to comment on the charges, but his attorney Lloyd Pierre-Louis said, “I would disagree with the categorization of a scheme and I disagree with a lot of what is in the indictment. In terms of it being a pattern, that has yet to be seen.”
Pierre-Louis declined to comment on specifics, saying Wednesday was the first time he had seen the charges in detail.
After he was appointed to the Ohio House in 2006, Luckie named Richmond Jones as his campaign treasurer. But Jones, who occasionally worked as Luckie’s tax accountant, never served as campaign treasurer, and Luckie forged Jones’ signature on a campaign finance filing submitted to the Secretary of State, authorities said.
Jones was reached outside his North Gettysburg Avenue tax preparation office Wednesday afternoon. Asked if he was aware that Luckie had designated him as his campaign treasurer, Jones said, “I’m sure things will be turned one way or another. Let me give you a call. I’m in a meeting.”
After news leaked in August that Luckie was under criminal investigation, he agreed to remove his name from the November ballot but did not resign from his $68,000-a-year post.
Now, House Republicans are calling on Luckie to immediately resign. It would take a two-thirds vote by the 99-member House to expel him. If he were convicted, he would be barred by state law from holding public office.
“We believe Mr. Luckie will take the necessary steps,” said Sarah Bender, spokeswoman for the Ohio House Democrats. “If the discussions with law enforcement do not result in Mr. Luckie’s resignation, Minority Leader (Armond) Budish has indicated he will urge Mr. Luckie to step down.”
The Democratic caucus did begin stripping Luckie of his committee assignments, including his spot on the powerful Controlling Board that approves multi-million dollar state contracts.
“I think it would be wise for Rep. Luckie to step away from public service and resign his position so he can focus on the challenges ahead,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.
Luckie voluntarily surrendered to the FBI on Wednesday. .
In a statement issued in August, Luckie said errors on some reports had been discovered but that his team was conducting a full review. In September, Luckie made four contributions totalling $48,160 into his campaign fund, according to reports filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
Secretary of State spokesman Matthew McClellan said the office reviews every filing in compliance with state election law, which authorizes office officials to examine filings only for completeness and accuracy. McClellan said suspicious filings are forwarded to the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, and he was not aware any relating to Luckie had been sent.
“Our office is always diligent in holding people accountable for what they file with our office,” McClellan said, adding that the Secretary of State is assisting the prosecutor and the FBI with the investigation.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a Republican, suggested that lawmakers and the Secretary of State examine whether the current auditing requirements and staff resources are sufficient to prevent officeholders from submitting fraudulent campaign finance documents.
Luckie failed to list expenditures made by his campaign committee on each campaign finance filing with the Secretary of State’s office between 2006 and 2012, authorities said.
The indictment accuses Luckie of transferring thousands of dollars from his campaign account to his personal bank accounts between 2007 and 2011. It also says he collected a $625 donation check to the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus for its 2011 annual golf outing; instead of turning it over to the group, he deposited it into his personal account, according to the indictment.
The misdemeanor charges are related to failing to disclose four loans he owed: $5,000 with Frank V. Surico, $4,000 with Union Savings Bank for the purchase of a jet ski, $3,000 with a Dayton jewelry store and $4,000 with a roofing company.
Luckie’s biggest contributors over the years have been the Service Employees International Union ($22,790), the Ohio Association of Public School Employees ($22,065) and the Ohio Education Association ($16,000).
Luckie’s spending reports show he racked up more than $1,900 in bank fees. In December 2011, Luckie described an $117.70 purchase at Weber Jewelers in Kettering as a “gift for the holidays.”
Luckie’s ex-wife Lisa Beth Willis told the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday she was not aware of the allegations against him. In their divorce agreement, they split their $56,000 in consumer credit card debt — $36,000 for him, $20,000 for her.
“We’ve been divorced for two years so I don’t know what he does with his money,” Willis said. “I have my own career and my own money.”
Luckie is the second Democratic lawmaker to face criminal charges this year. In June, Columbus Democrat W. Carlton Weddington pleaded guilty to bribery, election falsification and ethics violations and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Hanko and O’Brien said if it weren’t for the Weddington investigation, which involved reports of questionable actions by pay day lenders, Luckie’s activities may have gone unnoticed.
Hanko recently set up a five-member team in Columbus to investigate public corruption allegations.
“We are aggressive. We have a whole squad now that are dedicated to public corruption and civil rights violations. In the past, some of those agents have done bank failure cases, bankruptcy cases, embezzlement cases and a variety of other investigations,” Hanko said. “Now I have a cadre of agents who can concentrate just on this.”
Staff writer Tom Gnau contributed to this report.