Cincinnati lobbyist pleads guilty to unreported giveaways

COLUMBUS – A Cincinnati lobbyist pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of misdemeanor for failing to notify lawmakers about tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals and upscale dining at Via Vite Downtown and Lindey’s in Columbus.

John Rabenold, of Axcess Financial in Sycamore Township, paid for lawmakers to witness the Bengals’ 23-13 victory over the Detroit Lions on December 6, 2009 and to dine at Via Vite and Lindey’s in January 2010, according to the accusations. At the time, Rabenold was pushing against legislation to regulate payday lenders, which charge interest of up to 400% per year. The Check ‘n Go payday lender is a subsidiary of Axcess Financial.

The charges did not list the names of lawmakers who accepted the gifts. Franklin County District Attorney Ron O’Brien said he would refer the investigation to the Joint Legislative Ethics Board, which will decide whether to lay additional charges or issue further disciplinary action .

Under Ohio law, state lawmakers are prohibited from accepting gifts from lobbyists valued at more than $ 75, so lawmakers who accepted Bengal tickets may have committed a violation. . In addition, lawmakers cannot accept more than $ 75 per calendar year in food from a lobbyist and must file a report listing all gifts over $ 25 received from any lobbyist.

No lawmaker reported any gifts from Rabenold in 2009 or 2010, said Tony Bledsoe, executive director of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. He said the law prohibited him from commenting on any ongoing investigation.

Lobbyists are also required to record expenses on quarterly reports filed with the state. Rabenold filed reports, but did not list any expenses.

“It was kind of an oversight,” said Rocky Saxbe, Rabenold’s lawyer, from Taft, Stettinius and Hollister’s office in Columbus. “He had these expenses, which weren’t significant amounts. He just didn’t include them in the reports he filed, and he acknowledged that and indicated that he would be more mindful of the to come up.”

Bledsoe disputed the attorney’s comment that Rabenold did not record the gifts as an “oversight”. Ohio ethics officials attempted to contact Rabenold in 2010 about his inability to report lobbying expenses, Bledsoe told The Enquirer Thursday.

“Mr. Rabenold has repeatedly denied making any reportable expenses” when questioned by officials about the Bengals game, ethics officials said in a statement later Thursday.

Under the charges, Rabenold, 44, faces a maximum of one year in prison and a $ 2,000 fine. He is expected to be sentenced May 1 by the Franklin County Common Plea Court.

Rabenold, of Indian Hill, ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2008, receiving more than $ 100,000 in campaign contributions from payday lenders. Grace Kendrick of Rabenold and Symmes Township lost a three-way primary in 2008 to current Rep Ron Maag, R-Salem Township.

Rabenold’s failure to report lobbying expenses was discovered as part of the FBI’s investigation into the money involved in lobbying for payday loan legislation, Prosecutor O’Brien said in a statement .

The investigation found that former state official Carlton Weddington, D-Columbus, had accepted bribes in exchange for the introduction of legislation. Weddington resigned in 2012 and pleaded guilty in exchange for a three-year sentence.

Later that year, then-Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, has been accused of personally spending over $ 130,000 for his campaign and then covering up his actions by falsifying records. Luckie canceled his candidacy for re-election, but he refused to resign his seat at Statehouse despite calls from leaders of the Republican and Democratic caucus to do so.

He served the remainder of his term, earning his taxpayer-funded salary all the time. Luckie then pleaded guilty in exchange for a three-year sentence.

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