The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have cited nearly 20 years of files for contributing to the campaign for the e-classroom of tomorrow – an indication that the now-closed online charter school and its major players have made the call. ‘subject to federal criminal investigation.
The USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau has secured the subpoena to appear before the grand jury in response to a request for public documents submitted to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
The summons, sent on February 4, 2019, covers all campaign contribution records since 2000 for ECOT, Altair Learning Management, IQ Innovations, WL Innovations, William and Jessica Lager, Richard James Harris, Melissa Vasil and Teresa Berry.
The U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio declined to comment when asked about the status of the ECOT investigation.
“Our policy is not to comment on the details or the potential existence of investigations,” said Jennifer Thornton, spokesperson for the district.
Campaign contributions linked to ECOT have become politically toxic. Lager had been a major contributor to Republican candidates and GOP organizations, giving around $ 2.1 million since 2000.
In August 2017, the Ohio Republican Party returned $ 76,000 in campaign donations to Lager and Vasil. The refund came after former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder returned $ 70,000 to the Summit County Republican Party – the same amount the county party had received two weeks earlier from the GOP of the ‘State. Lager and Vasil each wrote a check for $ 38,000 to the Ohio Republican Party’s state candidates fund on June 26, 2017.
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Bill Lager founded ECOT in 2000 and used for-profit companies he started to manage and provide IT services to the charter school.
In 2016, the Ohio Department of Education determined that ECOT had overestimated the number of students it served and the state demanded repayment of $ 80 million. This sparked a financial death spiral for the school, which abruptly closed its virtual doors in January 2018.
Then-state auditor Dave Yost released a dazzling report on the operation in May 2018 and referred the audit to county and federal prosecutors for possible investigation.
The subpoena tells LaRose’s office to send the files to FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel, who is assigned to the Public Corruption Team and is the lead agent in the House Bill 6 case.
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Wetzel wrote an 80-page affidavit used by federal prosecutors to describe the racketeering case against Householder, former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, lobbyist Juan Cespedes, political agent Jeff Longstreth and Neil Clark , a longtime lobbyist who committed suicide in March.
Householder and Borges pleaded not guilty while Cespedes and Longstreth signed guilty pleas in October.
Chronology:Sell in the Statehouse
In addition to the ECOT and House Bill 6 cases, the FBI said earlier this year that its investigation into former Ohio House President Cliff Rosenberger was still open. Three years ago, Rosenberger resigned and federal agents searched his home and storage unit. The subpoenas in this case indicate that authorities are reviewing who paid for Rosenberger’s trip and his involvement in a payday loan industry reform bill that had stalled under his watch. Rosenberger says he didn’t do anything wrong.
No charges have been laid in the ECOT or Rosenberger cases.
Clark, who pleaded not guilty in the HB6 case, was previously an ECOT spokesperson and lobbyist for some payday loan companies.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.