From pancaking and Coingate to ECOT and House Bill 6: 50 years of Ohio public corruption cases

Rep. Larry Householder walks past his portrait after being expelled from the Ohio House at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.
Rep. Larry Householder walks past his portrait after being expelled from the Ohio House at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

While Ohio is embroiled in the biggest public corruption case in state history and the largest open investigation in any statehouse across the nation, there are other scandals that stain Ohio's history books.

In June 2021, Ohio lawmakers expelled Republican Larry Householder from his legislative seat, nearly a year after he was charged in a federal racketeering case. Householder, who was investigated by federal authorities two decades ago during his first stint as speaker, has pleaded not guilty.

The racketeering case is expected to go to trial in 2022.

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But he is far from the first public official to be embroiled in scandal. Here is a rundown of several big cases over the past 50 years.

Payday lending

Ohio's long history with the payday lending industry includes legislative efforts to both loosen and strengthen regulations. But when a major bill to curb predatory lending practices stalled, FBI agents started to look at why.

The FBI mounted an extensive investigation into whether former Ohio Speaker Cliff Rosenberger broke the law in dealing with payday lending lobbyists.

Cliff Rosenberger: Three years after FBI raid of ex-Ohio House speaker, investigation remains open

Records subpoenaed in the case indicate authorities are looking at who paid for Rosenberger's extensive travel and why a payday lending reform bill stalled on his watch.

Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, abruptly resigned from the Ohio House in April 2018 and federal agents searched his home and storage a month later. No charges have been filed against Rosenberger and he says he did nothing wrong.

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow

Ohio's largest online charter school with roughly 12,000 students shut down in January 2018. The school was led by founder Bill Lager who made $2.5 million in political donations, mostly to Republicans.

ECOT collected about $1 billion in state taxpayer money since its inception in 2000.

But in 2016, the Ohio Department of Education determined that the school had been overstating the number of students it served and the state demanded repayment. ECOT unsuccessfully fought the orders through the state Board of Education and the courts.

ECOT: Feds subpoenaed campaign donation records for ECOT, key players

The online charter school fell into a financial death spiral following the state’s demand for repayment of $60 million in late 2016. The school was later ordered to repay another $19 million for the 2016-17 school year.

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow founder Bill Lager spoke at a rally at the Ohio Statehouse in May 2017. ECOT shut its doors in January 2018.
Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow founder Bill Lager spoke at a rally at the Ohio Statehouse in May 2017. ECOT shut its doors in January 2018.

Then-Ohio Auditor Dave Yost issued a blistering report in May 2018 that said ECOT officials deliberately inflated how much time students were engaged in learning so the school could be paid millions more in taxpayer money than it deserved – and the Ohio Department of Education didn’t do enough to stop it.

ECOT: ECOT officials could face fraud charges, auditor says

Yost sent the audit to federal prosecutors and the Franklin County prosecutor's office but no charges have been filed.

Deputy Ohio treasurer's kickback scheme

In August 2013, former Ohio deputy state treasurer Amer Ahmad was indicted in federal court for a bribery and kickback scheme.

Ahmad rewrote the state's investment policy and steered work to a high school friend who made $3.2 million in fees and kicked back more than $500,000 to Ahmad. Democrat Kevin Boyce was state treasurer but has said he was unaware of the fraud.

After Ahmad and his three co-defendants pleaded guilty, Ahmad fled to Pakistan to avoid sentencing and prison. During his international flight from justice, Ahmad kept a diary titled "Journey to Freedom: Who said escaping injustice would be easy?”

Amer Ahmad: Prosecutors want Pakistan to extradite former Ohio official

He was ultimately captured and held in a Pakistani jail for more than a year. Ahmad, who was born in Canton, returned to Ohio and is now incarcerated in a federal prison in San Diego.

Former attorney general Marc Dann

Democrat Marc Dann successfully campaigned on an anti-corruption platform for Ohio attorney general in 2006, but he quickly ran into his own troubles in office. He resigned in May 2008.

Marc Dann: 'I was a jerk' as Ohio attorney general

Two 26-year-old employees hired to work for Tony Gutierrez, Dann's longtime friend, filed sexual harassment complaints against Gutierrez. An investigation eventually led to the firing of two officials, the resignation of another and Dann's resignation after Democrats in the Ohio House filed articles of impeachment against him.

Marc Dann
Marc Dann

Dann got involved in an affair with his 28-year-old scheduler. He lived with friends Gutierrez and Leo Jennings III in a Dublin condominium that came to be known as "Dann’s Party Palace." Dann was married at the time.

Dann pleaded guilty to failing to disclose outside income to the public on legally required financial disclosure forms.

Dann was convicted of providing improper compensation for letting two aides subsidize their living expenses with money from his campaign account. Dann entered an “Alford plea” to that charge, which means he acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him but didn’t admit guilt.

Dann has since regained his law license and rebuilt his legal career. His Cleveland-based law firm focuses on disability rights and consumer issues such as mortgage foreclosure and debt collection.

Jimmy Dimora and the Cuyahoga County case

In 2012, federal prosecutors won convictions against former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison after being convicted of 32 criminal counts, including racketeering, bribery, conspiracy and tax charges.

More than 60 people – including Dimora, two judges, and the county auditor – were convicted in the federal investigation into corruption in Cuyahoga County.

In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, former Cuyahoga County commissioner Jimmy Dimora arrives at a federal courthouse in Cleveland. In 2009, following a massive public corruption case, voters approved government reforms.
In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, former Cuyahoga County commissioner Jimmy Dimora arrives at a federal courthouse in Cleveland. In 2009, following a massive public corruption case, voters approved government reforms.

Dimora took more than $166,000 in cash, home improvements, fancy meals, services from prostitutes, gambling trips and other items, according to testimony. In exchange, Dimora steered contacts and jobs to allies, interceded with judges on pending cases, and lobbied for grants and favorable loans.

The bribes were paid in exchange for Dimora’s efforts to steer contracts to allies, get jobs and raises for associates, intercede with judges on pending cases, lobby for grants and favorable loans for people who paid him, according to testimony.

In March 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Dimora who has been seeking to have his conviction overturned, according to Cleveland.com.

Coingate

The "Coingate" scandal involved a $50 million investment in rare coins and memorabilia by a prominent GOP fundraiser, Tom Noe, on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Reporting by The (Toledo) Blade detailed the questionable investments and political connections. A year later, Democrats won four of five non-judicial statewide offices in 2006.

The unusual investment in rare coins led to problems with accounting for the funds and recovering all of the coins. Its exposure also led to further investigations into Noe’s illegal fundraising for President George W. Bush.

It also was discovered that Noe regularly picked up the tab for members of Gov. Bob Taft’s office and others at a downtown Columbus steakhouse in what was known as the “Noe Supper Club.”

Tom Noe, the principal player in the "Coingate" scandal, was among Ohio inmates freed early in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom Noe, the principal player in the "Coingate" scandal, was among Ohio inmates freed early in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While his investment ultimately made a profit, Noe was found to have stolen $13.7 million from the fund and was convicted of 29 charges. He was released from prison last year when Gov. Mike DeWine allowed early releases for some inmates who were at risk for COVID-19 and were close to their scheduled out date.

It also led to Taft becoming the first Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime – four ethics misdemeanors related to failing to report gifts, including some from Noe. Several other Republicans also were convicted of ethics violations.

The case led to the Bureau of Workers' Compensation overhauling its board of directors to improve oversight.

Pancaking

In 1996, then-Ohio Senate president Stanley Aronoff and former Ohio House Speaker Vern Riffe and others were indicted on misdemeanor charges related to failing to properly disclose payments to the lawmakers.

A photo of Stanley Aronoff from 2012
A photo of Stanley Aronoff from 2012

The investigation centered on honoraria paid to lawmakers by lobbyists and business groups in excess of $500.

At the time, speaking engagement payments over $500 had to be disclosed if they came from a single source. The scheme involved lawmakers receiving multiple checks at the same events – stacking them like pancakes – to sidestep disclosure requirements.

The case was notable because it snared two of the most powerful lawmakers in Ohio's history. Riffe, who died in 1997, served 36 years in the Ohio House, including 20 years as speaker. Arnoff served 36 years in the Legislature, including 30 years in the Senate and eight years as Senate president.

Both Riffe and Arnoff have public buildings named after them. The Ohio House members have their offices in the Riffe Center in downtown Columbus overlooking the Statehouse. The Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati and Aronoff Laboratory on Ohio State University's main campus are both named for the former lawmaker from Cincinnati.

The scandal also led to ethics reforms, including the creation of the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, a $75 aggregate limit on gifts and a $75 aggregate limit on meals and beverages from a single source each year, and a strict prohibition on speaking fees.

Crofters

The Crofters’ loan scandal helped elect Democrats including Gov. John J. Gilligan in 1970.

Crofters, a Columbus-based loan arranging company led by a prominent Republican, was accused of trying to bribe state officials after it helped two companies get questionable loans from the state treasurer. Crofters got 4% finders fees for arranging the loans.

The loans exceeded the limit allowed by state law and were considered riskier than the law allowed.

During an effort by the Republican Party to force the withdrawal of two members of the statewide ticket connected to Crofters, former U.S. Rep. Gordon Scherer, a central committee member, said, “The feeling was that this has hurt the party terrifically.”

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio: Public corruption cases, from Marc Dann to ECOT to Householder