Former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of probation Tuesday under a plea agreement with the Franklin County Prosecutor on charges the Dayton Democrat misused his campaign account while serving in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Luckie also was ordered to repay $11,893 that he received in salary as an Ohio House member from when he was indicted in October until his term ended on Dec. 31.
While Luckie will report March 18 to begin his state prison time, he could be eligible for early release after as little as six months behind bars, depending in part on his cooperation in an ongoing FBI investigation.
Under the plea agreement reached Tuesday, prosecutors dropped 42 criminal counts and added a grand theft charge. Luckie then pleaded guilty to the remaining eight felony counts and one misdemeanor count.
Authorities accused Luckie of diverting as much as $130,000 from his campaign account between 2006 and 2012, including $9,825 in checks written to himself, 169 cash withdrawals totaling $19,000, and 800 debit card transactions totaling almost $40,000. Much of the spending did not appear to be campaign related: ATM withdrawals at casinos, a payment on a home equity line of credit, and purchases at Morris Home Furnishings, Weber Jewelers, Nordstrom, Lowe’s, Babies R Us and other retailers.
Luckie apologized to his constituents, family members, colleagues and others, and said he takes full responsibility for his actions. But in the same two-minute statement Luckie seemed to chalk it all up to mistakes that resulted in trying to do too much at once.
“I tried to act in my job to the best of my capability was at the time. Making sure I take care of my constituents and making sure I put forth legislation that would help my constituents,” he told the court. “I’ve worked from six in the morning to one, two o’clock at night. I went to every meeting. I’ve never missed an occasion from a bar mitzvah to a birthday party to a graduation. I tried to make everything. I think doing this job you don’t have a big staff and you spread yourself thin. I think I spread myself a little thin.”
He declined to comment further immediately following his sentencing.
Luckie pleaded guilty to six counts of election falsification, one count of money laundering, one count of theft, and one misdemeanor count of filing a false ethics statement.
Luckie came to the FBI’s attention during the same investigation that led to another Democrat, Carlton Weddington, pleading guilty to bribery and ethics charges and going to prison for three years. an investigation into the pay day lending industry, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and the General Assembly that led to another Democrat, Carlton Weddington, pleading guilty to bribery and ethics charges and going to prison for three years. During the course of the investigation, FBI agents found a $300 contribution to Luckie’s campaign account reported by a pay day lending political action committee but not reported by Luckie.
The scheme exposed vulnerabilities in Ohio’s campaign reporting system that authorities say allowed Luckie to name a campaign committee treasurer without the man’s knowledge and then submit bogus receipts to justify fake campaign expenditures used to cover money being siphoned off for personal use.
“It is an honor system. You file your expenditures. You don’t have to submit the bank statements so the (campaign committee) treasurer is on the line for election falsification if you file a false report,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who has prosecuted more than a dozen public officials in the past decade for criminal conduct. “But no one really knows if they’re false unless you look at the underlying bank accounts, which happened in this case.”
Secretary of State Jon Husted said the state campaign finance department works more in a transparency role than an investigatory role and its primary duty is to review reports and make them publicly available. Husted said expenditures at fast food restaurants and retail stores don’t necessarily break the law, which gives politicians leeway on how to spend.
“We definitely try to play it strictly by the book — what is allowed, what isn’t allowed,” Husted said. “We don’t make judgments whether it’s a wise use of funds, we make judgments whether it’s a legal use of funds.”
Husted said Luckie’s missteps could have been discovered sooner if candidates submitted bank statements with their expenditure reports. Bank statements would show where public officials actually spent their dollars instead of where they reportedly spent it. State campaign finance law would have to be changed to mandate the extra information.
O’Brien said lawmakers may want to consider changing the law to require more documentation and auditing. But in the meantime, he said, “Whether you’re stealing from your campaign fund as Mr. Luckie was doing or whether you’re taking bribes as Mr. Weddington was doing, eventually you’ll be caught and there will be serious sanctions.”
Edward Hanko, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Cincinnati Field Office, said in a written statement: “When public officials betray the trust that has been given to them, it can have a devastating impact on our system of government. These officials are accountable for their actions and when they violate the law, there are very real consequences.”
O’Brien, a Republican, has prosecuted more than a dozen public officials in the past decade for ethics violations and other criminal conduct, including former Gov. Bob Taft, his then chief of staff Brian Hicks, former attorney general Marc Dann, and several people connected to the extensive investment scandal at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
Before going to the Ohio House, Luckie spent 10 years on the Dayton School Board. He lives in the Wright-Dunbar Historic District, has two children and is divorced. He was replaced in the 39th House district seat by Fred Strahorn, a Democrat who previously served in the House and Senate.
Staff writer Jackie Borchardt contributed to this report.