Lobbyist John Raphael maintained to the end that he acted alone when he extorted campaign contributions for city officials by threatening red-light-camera company Redflex with the loss of its Columbus contract. But emails and recordings mentioned for the first time during Raphael's sentencing hearing on Wednesday could shed light on why a federal judge and federal prosecutors say they don't believe Raphael when he says only he is responsible.
Lobbyist John Raphael maintained to the end that he acted alone when he extorted campaign contributions for city officials by threatening red-light-camera company Redflex with the loss of its Columbus contract.
But emails and recordings mentioned for the first time during Raphael's sentencing hearing on Wednesday could shed light on why a federal judge and federal prosecutors say they don’t believe Raphael when he says only he is responsible.
Raphael, 61, stood in federal court Wednesday and said he wasn’t “taking one for the team” to protect his elected friends.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson said he didn’t believe Raphael.
“You were not the author of this scheme,” Watson said, before sentencing Raphael to 15 months in federal prison, a $5,000 fine and a year of probation. Raphael has 45 days to report and begin his sentence, but he could ask for an extension.
“The people have a right to the honest services of their officials,” Watson told Raphael. “It was not above-board with Redflex.”
Still, interim U.S. District Attorney Ben Glassman said last week that he considers the Redflex case closed with bribery convictions for two former Redflex executives and an extortion conviction for Raphael. He doesn’t anticipate charging anyone further.
Even so, Watson clearly disbelieved Raphael, and federal prosecutors said in their sentencing recommendations that they believed Raphael was covering for others.
Why? Some of the evidence for those beliefs was mentioned publicly for the first time during Raphael’s two-hour sentencing hearing on Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors referenced emails from Raphael to Redflex executives, including some from 2005, when the city was preparing to choose a vendor for its red-light-camera program. In them, prosecutors said, Raphael told the executives that a competitor had already “taken care of” Columbus City Council members.
Raphael told the Redflex executives they needed to do something similar, prosecutors said.
“The tenor of the emails I reviewed certainly corroborate your admission (of guilt),” Watson said during the sentencing.
Federal prosecutors said Redflex gave out $7,500 in campaign contributions to council campaigns in 2005. It’s unclear who received those contributions. Federal court documents publicly available since June 2015 detail contributions that flowed through Raphael from Redflex in 2007, 2009 and 2011. City council and mayoral campaigns are held in odd-numbered years.
Federal prosecutors said in court Wednesday that Raphael made a mockery of the state’s campaign contribution laws and brought his elected friends into the scheme.
Raphael’s attorney, Mike Miller, also said that Aaron Rosenberg, once Redflex’s top salesman and a linchpin in the Columbus scandal, recorded his conversations with elected officials.
Miller said he had not heard the recorded conversations, but he believed prosecutors had them.
The details of those conversations have never been made public.
Glassman said he would check with officials in Washington, D.C., about making the emails and recordings and other records available as soon as possible.
Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther has said he did nothing wrong and that there is no pay-to-play at City Hall. Others implicated by federal prosecutors in the Raphael/Redflex scheme, such as former Mayor Michael B. Coleman and former council president Michael C. Mentel, have said the same.
Ginther has said in previous interviews that he had conversations with Rosenberg and had asked Rosenberg for a campaign contribution.
As far as Ginther knows, he has said, that contribution never came. But federal prosecutors said Redflex sent $20,000 to Ginther’s campaign fund through Raphael and the Ohio Democratic Party.
Asked Friday whether the new records mentioned in court would change anything, Ginther replied: “ I have said all I am going to say or need to say.”
Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley said the $20,000 payment was further concealed as a payment to Raphael for an invoice the lobbyist submitted that was labeled “success fee.”
Ginther said the party gives money to his campaign from time to time and he did not question the contribution. Before his mayoral campaign, it was the largest contribution the state party had given him.
Miller said he doesn’t believe Raphael helped Redflex bribe Columbus elected officials, but he acknowledged that Judge Watson disagrees with him.
“I think you could draw a reasonable conclusion either way,” Miller said.
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