COLUMBUS, OH (AP) – Federal investigators seized records from former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s office earlier this year as part of a federal criminal investigation into potential bribes and kickbacks surrounding payday lending legislation.
A subpoena and search warrant the House released Monday in response to public records requests provide new details of the FBI probe that led to the Republican rising star’s sudden resignation in April.
Documents show U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman sought three boxes and a thumb drive that investigators believe contain evidence of extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, attempt to commit extortion and bribery.
Rep. David Leland, D – Columbus, says the documents confirm a lot of the rumors about what he calls “a culture of corruption” at the statehouse.
“And while Cliff Rosenberger himself is gone, the first speaker of the Ohio House to resign in disgrace, his leadership team is still here,” Leland said.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio said it is reasonable to wonder about other lawmakers or staff. “Connecting the dots it looks like pay to play and when someone is actually the leader of the House in that kind of leadership position, many different representatives are going to take their cue from the leader,” Turcer said.
Investigators also sought documentation of Rosenberger’s travels and communications with payday industry lobbyists Stephen Dimon Jr. and Leslie Gaines, and Carol Stewart, senior vice president of the payday lending company Advance America.
During Rosenberger’s tenure as speaker, attempts to reform the rules of payday lending stalled in the House.
Rosenberger’s travel included trips to London, France and China for conferences paid for in part, or attended by representatives of the payday lending industry.
“I don’t think these kinds of junkets should happen in the State of Ohio,” said Leland. “If I want to go to London, I’ll go to London, Ohio. That’s the only London that I want to go to. And if you want to take a trip – pay for it yourself.”
Turcer says the federal investigation points to a need for some tighter rules on elected officials. “Why is it okay to accept enormous gifts like plane rides and trips,” Turcer asks. “One of the ways we can rein in pay to play is to say – ‘that’s not okay’. Let’s actually make some good rules.”