By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
In a 40-page affidavit, an FBI agent has detailed dozens of incidents in which four Toledo City Council members, over the course of several years, have solicited and accepted payments, ostensibly for their campaign accounts, in order to vote, or convince their fellow council members to vote, in ways that would benefit several businessmen from whom the bribes were solicited.
“The investigation revealed that City Council members, Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes and Gary Johnson, all accepted bribe payments for officials acts,” swears the affiant. “Additionally, it was determined that Harper used a local attorney, Keith Mitchell, to solicit and funnel her bribe payments.”
The evidence for the charges comes from the testimony of two local business owners (confidential human sources) as well as the recordings of cell phone conversations, text messages, in-person meetings while also researching financial, business and government records.
Based on the information collected, the government has concluded that the council members and attorney Mitchell will be charged with violating Title 18 United States Code Section 666 (a)(1)(B), which prohibits an agent of the government from soliciting money for the benefit of any person; Title 18 USC Section 875(d) which prohibits extortion of money from any person or organization and, for Harper, Title 18 USC Section 1951, which prohibits obstruction commerce due to the extortion of any person or organization.
The confidential human sources that the government has relied on are local business owners who are connected with each other, according to the affidavit. Source 1 is described as the owner of numerous gas stations and convenience stores who does not have legal immigration status. He was arrested on February 15, 2018, due to that illegal status, and on March 05, 2018, had a conversation with government agents during which he confessed to previous bribery incidents. According to the affiant, Source 1 expects leniency in future criminal and immigration matters but no promises have been made. Source 2 became involved in the investigation when he intervened on Source 1’s behalf with the investigation subjects.
Going forward, two issues are clear. One, the legal process is going to drag on for quite a long time, if past legal processes are any indication – some have opined that a minimum of 18 months will be necessary to settle the matter.
Second, the four council members are faced with the problem of what to do with respect to their status on City Council. All indications are that no one, in the political or governmental landscape, wants the four to remain on council. Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Council President Matt Cherry and Lucas County Democratic Chairman Michael Ashford wasted no time in issuing statements that, for the good of the city and the community, the four should resign immediately, regardless of their guilt or innocence, so that the community can move forward.
“The best thing they can do for the City – they should step down and let the City conduct its business,” said Ashford in a recent conversation with The Truth. “They have lost the public trust and no one will believe anything they say.”
Indeed, stressed Ashford, the Democratic Party is looking into “legal ways to find a way clear” in case any of the four refuse to resign immediately. Ashford hopes City Council will delay any future meetings until they are removed.
“There will be a cloud over their heads and they will be scrutinized in every vote,” says Ashford. “Every vote will be magnified and examined. They need to resign immediately.”
Elected to City Council in 2013 as an At-Large representative, Larry Sykes has a lengthy history in public service in Toledo. A Scott High School graduate who attended Central State University, Sykes retired from Fifth Third Bank after 30 years – a vice president and community affairs officer in his final position.
He served on the Toledo Board of Education for a dozen years – as president of the board for several terms – and also has been a longtime member of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority board. More recently he has been on the boards of Lucas County Children Services, St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, the Mentoring Collaborative Advisory Council, the University of Toledo African American Community Advisory Committee and the Victim Witness Program.
Recently, Sykes has led the charge on City Council to pass an ordinance dealing with the issue of lead poisoning, particularly in the inner city. He has described his priorities as an elected legislator, of improving the well being of his constituents – health, safety, financial success.
His culpability is said, by the affiant, to be $1,500 in bribes accepted.
Yvonne Harper was first appointed to City Council as the District 4 representative in 2015 to replace Paula Hicks-Hudson. Harper, a Woodward High School graduate and subsequently won election in her own right.
A longtime Democratic Party activist – the executive director of the Party for years – Harper has served as the president of the Perry Burroughs Democratic Women’s Club, which has been an active fundraiser in the community for almost 20 years under her leadership. During her time on Council, Harper has been a tireless advocate for the citizens in her District, fielding numerous concerns and complaints that come to her, as various constituents note.
Harper is alleged to have accepted close to $13,000 in bribes and to have extorted another $3,000.
Tyrone Riley, a lawyer in private practice for years, was elected to his District 1 seat in 2011 to replace Wilma Brown, who finished her years on Council as president of the body. Riley has distinguished himself on Council by hosting numerous events and providing entertainment, gifts and funds for his constituents – ice skating events, writing contests, Smithfest, Summer Breeze.
Riley is said to have accepted $11,800 in bribes.
Gary Johnson, a businessman who founded AFI Contractors 16 years ago, has over 30 years of experience with the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office and is the most recently elected member of the Council, having won his At-Large seat in 2017.
Although newly-elected, Johnson has over 30 years of community service with organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber, Latins United, NAACP, African American Chamber, the Zoo Foundation, among others.
He attempted to run for the position of Lucas County Sheriff this year but loss in the primary to former Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre.
Johnson is alleged to have accepted $3,000 in bribes
Keith Mitchell, a member of the Ohio State Bar Association since the late 1980s, has long been active in the community with politics – he ran for the chairmanship of the Lucas County Democratic Party earlier this year and lost to Ashford – and fundraising for charitable causes, assisting several of the four council members with their activities.
Mitchell is reported to have accepted $2,000 personally in addition to what he accepted for Harper.
The 40-page affidavit details over 100 incidents relating to the bribery and extortion charges: Riley’s many incidents in soliciting money for votes, Harper’s attempting to funnel money through Mitchell as well as extorting a business for the benefit of a constituent, Sykes and Johnson requesting money for their upcoming campaigns.
The affiant submits there is probable cause to believe that Riley, Harper, Sykes, Johnson and Mitchell violated the bribery statutes of the United States Code and that Harper has violated the extortion statute.
All have been released on bond and the next court appearance, at the time of this report, has not been determined.