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Defense attorneys want to look into FBI’s conduct in council case

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Aug. 16—On the deadline to file motions in a federal court case against four former Toledo city councilmen charged with bribery and extortion, attorneys for one of them, Gary Johnson, asked for the charges against their client to be dismissed because of what they described as “wrongful conduct” by federal investigators.

Defense attorneys Richard Kerger and David Klucas filed a motion to dismiss charges and asked for an in-person hearing, according to a document filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Toledo. Mr. Johnson, along with colleagues, Tyrone Riley, Larry Sykes, and Yvonne Harper, face federal bribery and extortion charges.

Federal investigators allege more than $34,000 changed hands over a two-year period between Toledo business owners trying to win council approval for various matters.

Local attorney Keith Mitchell was also named in the allegations, but he died in April.

In Monday’s filing, Mr. Kerger and Mr. Klucas claim “the FBI attempted to obstruct [Mr. Johnson’s] ability to conduct his own investigation into what has occurred and indeed took steps to shape events to its advantage, and to the prejudice of defendant,” through an interview with an unidentified Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center executive.

The hospital’s spokesman, Erica Blake, declined comment Monday.

The filing included a report of an FBI interview from Jan. 10, 2020 with the hospital executive, whose name and personal information was redacted from the document. The executive serves as the hospital’s liaison with the neighborhood development, according to the agent’s report.

Prior to the interview, federal agents advised the hospital executive that the content of the interview was “highly sensitive,” and the executive had to sign a nondisclosure agreement between himself and the FBI, meaning he was not permitted to tell anyone about the content of the interview, according to court documents.

The hospital executive learned about and expressed disapproval of a special use permit being considered for an internet cafe in the 300 block of West Central Avenue, court documents say.

The potential for a gambling establishment “will add to the blight of the area and decrease property values,” the hospital executive told federal agents.

During the interview, federal agents told the hospital executive that “the FBI is in control of whether or not that internet cafe will be established at that location, and [redacted name] was assured that the FBI will not allow the internet cafe to establish there,” according to the agents’ interview notes.

“The clear purpose of that statement was to cause the hospital not to actively oppose the internet cafe location,” Mr. Kerger and Mr. Klucas wrote. “It is also interesting to imagine why the FBI considered itself in control of the situation and how it was going to undertake to usurp the conduct of the city’s affairs.”

At the time of the FBI’s statement, “it knew that one of Mr. Johnson’s concerns about the cafe was that if the hospital objected, he would not support the special use permit,” Mr. Kerger and Mr. Klucas wrote.

Had there been any objection, Mr. Johnson wouldn’t have supported it, according to the two attorneys.

At a Feb. 25, 2020 meeting, all 12 councilmen supported the special use permit, allowing it to pass.

Additionally, federal law says witnesses are not property of one party or the other, the defense attorneys claimed.

“Consider what would happen if defense counsel interviewed witnesses and then had them sign non-disclosure agreements restricting them from discussing the conversations with representatives of the government,” Mr. Kerger and Mr. Klucas wrote. “The speed in which an indictment against such an individual would be returned is measured in hours, not days.”

Last month, Mr. Kerger and Mr. Klucas asked for a trial separate from Mr. Johnson’s co-defendants. The defense attorneys also filed a motion last week to dismiss the extortion charges against Mr. Johnson because the allegations don’t spell out a quid pro quo — or a promise for money for an official act on city council.

As of Monday afternoon, an in-person hearing had not been set, and no other motions had been filed.

First Published August 16, 2021, 4:10pm

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