Tag: Cincinnati

How FBI agents posed as Cincinnati hotel developers to catch suspects in 2 Ohio bribery scandals

COLUMBUS – Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark didn’t realize – while chatting with hotel developer clients after a Reds game – that he was talking with undercover FBI agents working to uncover two bribery schemes. 

Bribery case explained: What you need to know about Larry Householder, FirstEnergy, HB6

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The first was against Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican, who was arrested Tuesday. He is accused of accepting $55,000 in bribes in exchange for his vote on development projects. Pastor pleaded not guilty to charges Tuesday afternoon.

The second was against Clark, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and three others. They are accused of orchestrating a nearly $61 million bribery scheme to seize control of the Ohio House, pass a more than $1 billion bailout for nuclear plants and defend those subsidies against a ballot initiative. 

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Those two apparently unconnected, widespread bribery investigations converged in Cincinnati.

Two agents posed as Cincinnati hotel developers with Monarch Development Inc. and offered bribes to Pastor between August 2018 and February 2019. 

One of the projects at the center of the Pastor investigation was 435 Elm St., the former Convention Place Mall that had become an eyesore. The FBI asked former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe, whose company is trying to develop the former mall site, for help.

In January 2019, Clark met with Ndukwe and the two hotel developers, introduced as Brian Bennett and Rob Miller, in Clark’s Columbus office. Clark told The Enquirer that the men said they had the votes on Cincinnati Council for a boutique hotel at 435 Elm St. and wanted to offer sports betting there. 

Sports betting isn’t yet legal in Ohio, but lawmakers are considering legislation to allow it. The key debate remains where should it be permitted and who should regulate it.

Clark now believes his hotel developer clients were actually FBI agents or informants. Federal documents in the Pastor case back that up. At least one “undercover law enforcement agent” posed as a business partner to Ndukwe and another, unidentified developer, according to Pastor’s indictment. 

In June 2019, Clark and his clients watched a Reds-Houston Astros game in Cincinnati and then met politicians at the penthouse of 580 Walnut St. Clark said he met city council members there but wasn’t sure if Pastor was one of them. 

Clark met with his clients in Nashville in July 2019 and at a suburban Columbus dinner club in September 2019. Conversations from those meetings later appeared in the federal indictment against him, Householder and three allies. Clark, Householder and lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges.



a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a crowd: Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder walks out of U.S. District Court after charges that he participated in a racketeering conspiracy in Columbus, Ohio on July 21, 2020. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four colleagues were arrested by federal officials Tuesday as part of a bribery investigation involving the state’s $1 billion nuclear plant bailout and Householder’s maneuverings to secure support to lead the legislative chamber. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]


© Kyle Robertson, Kyle Robertson
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder walks out of U.S. District Court after charges that he participated in a racketeering conspiracy in Columbus, Ohio on July 21, 2020. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four colleagues were arrested

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How FBI agents posed as Cincinnati hotel developers to catch Ohio bribery suspects

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Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four alleged co-conspirators were arrested and charged in a racketeering and bribery case.

Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS – Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark didn’t realize – while chatting with hotel developer clients after a Reds game – that he was talking with undercover FBI agents working to uncover two bribery schemes. 

The first was against Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican, who was arrested Tuesday. He is accused of accepting $55,000 in bribes in exchange for his vote on development projects. Pastor pleaded not guilty to charges Tuesday afternoon.

The second was against Clark, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and three others. They are accused of orchestrating a nearly $61 million bribery scheme to seize control of the Ohio House, pass a more than $1 billion bailout for nuclear plants and defend those subsidies against a ballot initiative. 

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is accused of racketeering. The FBI posed as Cincinnati hotel developers to assist in the arrest of Householder and Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Pastor in two separate cases. (Photo: Kyle Robertson, Kyle Robertson)

Those two apparently unconnected, widespread bribery investigations converged in Cincinnati.

Two agents posed as Cincinnati hotel developers with Monarch Development Inc. and offered bribes to Pastor between August 2018 and February 2019. 

One of the projects at the center of the Pastor investigation was 435 Elm St., the former Convention Place Mall that had become an eyesore. The FBI asked former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe, whose company is trying to develop the former mall site, for help.

In January 2019, Clark met with Ndukwe and the two hotel developers, introduced as Brian Bennett and Rob Miller, in Clark’s Columbus office. Clark told The Enquirer that the men said they had the votes on Cincinnati Council for a boutique hotel at 435 Elm St. and wanted to offer sports betting there. 

Sports betting isn’t yet legal in Ohio, but lawmakers are considering legislation to allow it. The key debate remains where should it be permitted and who should regulate it.

Clark now believes his hotel developer clients were actually FBI agents or informants. Federal documents in the Pastor case back that up. At least one “undercover law enforcement agent” posed as a business partner to Ndukwe and another, unidentified developer, according to Pastor’s indictment. 

In June 2019, Clark and his clients watched a Reds-Houston Astros game in Cincinnati and then met politicians at the penthouse of 580 Walnut St. Clark said he met city council members there but wasn’t sure if Pastor was one of them. 

Clark met with his clients in Nashville in July 2019 and at a suburban Columbus dinner club in September 2019. Conversations from those meetings later appeared in the federal indictment against him, Householder and three allies. Clark, Householder and lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges.

Clark, at the dinner, said that defending the nuclear bailout would shore up Householder’s power going forward:

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Lobbyist says he was secretly recorded by mysterious Cincinnati hotel developers

Jessie Balmert

Sharon Coolidge
 
| Cincinnati Enquirer

Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark, recently indicted in connection with the state’s largest bribery scandal, says he was secretly recorded by Cincinnati hotel developers who weren’t what they seemed.  

Those recordings later ended up in an 81-page federal indictment accusing Clark, former Speaker Larry Householder and several others of trading nearly $61 million in bribes for a $1.3 billion nuclear bailout. 

Clark told The Enquirer he now suspects that two Cincinnati hotel developers, named Brian Bennett and Rob Miller of Monarch Development Inc., were either FBI agents or confidential informants, Cleveland.com first reported.

How did the largest scandal in Columbus reach Cincinnati? 

Clark said he was introduced to Bennett and Miller by Cincinnati lobbyist John Rabenold. Clark later met the men at his Columbus office in January 2019.

“It was (because of) Rabenold’s persistence that I took the meeting,” Clark said. Rabenold could not be reached for comment. 

The developers had a simple pitch: They wanted to offer sports betting at a downtown Cincinnati hotel, which had not been built. Ohio lawmakers were considering where to allow sports betting and Clark could help them. 

In June 2019, Clark and his clients watched a Reds-Houston Astros game in Cincinnati then met lawmakers at the penthouse of 580 Walnut St.

Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, said he met developers connected to that hotel project who were interested in sports betting, but he couldn’t recall a specific time or place. Pete Witte, a prominent Westside activist who is politically connected, introduced Seitz to the men. 

Seitz told The Enquirer that he warned the developers that their chances of getting a sports betting terminal in their hotel  would be “slim to none.” Lawmakers weren’t interested in making sports betting locations ubiquitous. 

Clark suspects the hotel developers recorded him in conversations later held in Nashville and a Columbus suburb. The July and September 2019 conversations were quoted in the federal indictment, detailing how the nuclear bailout was passed and defended. 

Clark has pleaded not guilty to charges included in the federal case. He recently finished a book about his decades in politics and plans to release it in 2021.

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