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Dayton corruption probe: What goes into a federal investigation?

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2019 @ 6:30 PM
Updated: Friday, July 26, 2019 @ 6:29 AM

As part of an ongoing investigation into a large Dayton corruption probe, here's a look into how a corruption investigation works

The long-running corruption investigation at Dayton City Hall has produced four federal criminal cases.

Already, one target of the probe has pleaded guilty. The others remain scheduled for trial.

RELATED: Here’s how the feds say Clayton Luckie participated in a fraud for $2K

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Now, News Center 7’s I-Team has uncovered new information about the investigative techniques used by the FBI in cases like this and why some people involved in government corruption think they can outsmart the feds and never get caught

Pete Davis, a former attorney in intelligence with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington cited the difference ways evidence is collected in these cases.

“Electronic surveillance, physical searches, GPS surveillance, confidential human sources, undercover operations,” he said.

With a court’s permission, the FBI has a very sophisticated array of investigative tools they can use, including the signal from your phone, Davis said. 
They can track your travels by GPS, see where you’re going and when, plus who you’re meeting with if that other person is also on the FBI’s radar.

“The government has very powerful and intrusive techniques for criminal, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism investigations,” he said.

Court records obtained by the I-Team show the federal investigation goes back to at least 2017, looking at written and electronic communications, vouchers, checks, reports, agreements and bank records.

Mike Crites is a former Dayton resident and was a federal prosecutors for seven years. He’s now in private practice.

RELATED: Dayton to create ‘whistleblower’ hotline in wake of federal corruption probe

Cases like this take so long because they’re very complex, Crites said. Some even have a million documents.

The I-Team asked him what it’s like if targets of a federal probe get wind of their records being sought, especially if they haven’t been charged yet.

“It’s hell them,” Crites said. “Because they don’t know how long it’s going to go on. You can imagine waking up every morning not knowing if an indictment is going to be returned and someone’s going to come knocking on your door and put you in handcuffs and take you down to federal court.”

In the Dayton case people did appear to be shocked by the charges against them.

Public corruption cases in recent Dayton history have been rare, but Crites said there has been more emphasis on it by the FBI lately.

But if there was so much wrongdoing at City Hall, why wasn’t it uncovered earlier by a regular audit?

“I always say if somebody’s got larceny in their heart they’re going to steal from you,” said Ohio Auditor Keith Faber.

He added that regular audits only look at a sample of transactions.

The I-Team found in the Dayton’s case that the city even bragged in 2016 saying “state auditor confirms clean audit for City of Dayton.”

RELATED: DAYTON CORRUPTION PROBE: Read the indictments here

“Most of what we do is make sure the policies are in place to make it difficult to steal and likely certain that you’re going to get caught eventually,” Faber said.

With so much information on contracts and spending readily available at city halls, county governments and even the Statehouse, why would someone think they could take money or cut corners to benefit themselves?

“Those people are just, I hate to say it, are just bad people,” Faber said.

“I truly believe some people think they are smarter than the federal government and the Department of Justice,” said Crites. “They really think they can pull it off.”

And what’s happened to the four people charged in the first round if indictments?

Former state Rep. Clayton Luckie, who did three years in prison previously for theft from his own campaign funds, has pleaded guilty to mail fraud.

RoShawn Winburn was fired from his job with the city which paid nearly $85,000.

He and the other, Brian Higgins and former commissioners Joe Williams, have entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial.

Faber said those cases should serve as an example to other cities and counties that transparency in government can help prevent illegal activity.

Crites said anyone caught up in a corruption case will be up against a lot because the feds take this very seriously.

RELATED: Gov. DeWine doesn’t believe there is a ‘culture of corruption’ in Dayton politics

“They’re very zealous, very cautious, very fair having been on both sides, but they’re not going to stop,” said Crites. “They’ve got the resources of Uncle Sam. They can print more money if they need it for more assistance and more agents.”

The first of the four people charged back in April, Luckie, will be sentenced Nov. 15.

The feds in the case said there will be additional charges filed, but so far the U.S. attorney has not identified the people who will be targeted in the second wave of the investigation.