Four elected Democrats and a private attorney were accused Tuesday of taking part in a bribery and extortion scheme that encouraged soliciting and/or accepting cash and other things of value from business owners in exchange for favorable votes on issues before the Toledo City Council, federal prosecutors said.
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Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes, and Garrick “Gary” Johnson, all Democrats who serve on the council, and Keith Mitchell, an attorney in Toledo who Harper allegedly used to solicit and funnel bribe payments through, all face bribery and extortion charges. Harper also faces a count of interstate communications with intent to extort.
The four council members represent one-third of the Ohio city’s council. They were all arrested early Tuesday without incident, authorities said, but Mitchell remained at large. Each defendant could face up to 10 years on the bribery counts and 20 years on the extortion counts.
It wasn’t known Tuesday if any of the defendants have retained attorneys.
The criminal cases started in March 2018, when a federal law enforcement agent interviewed an unnamed source who owns several commercial properties, primarily gas stations and convenience stores, within Toledo, the state’s fourth-largest city.
“As alleged in the Complaint, four Toledo City Council members and a local attorney have been engaged in a pay-to-play scheme involving bribes for Council votes,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said in a statement Wednesday. “Maintaining the public’s trust in its elected officials is one of the Department of Justice’s core responsibilities.”
Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, also a Democrat, issued a statement saying he was “shocked and heartbroken” by the arrests, but noted the council members should be presumed innocent “until proven otherwise.”
Democratic Council President Matt Cherry said he and other council members are cooperating with the investigation.
“Corruption of any kind cannot be tolerated and has no place in the government of Toledo and Ohio,” Cherry said.
Noting that a Democratic City Council member in Cincinnati had pleaded guilty Monday to similar corruption charges, Ohio Republican Party Communications Director Evan Machan issued a statement that said Democrats “should be ashamed of how they have betrayed their constituents.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article