‘There is more to this story:’ Pastor’s attorney raises questions on motives, evidence

LIVE: Attorney for Councilman Pastor questions motives, evidence
Updated: Nov. 13, 2020 at 11:31 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - City Councilman Jeff Pastor hired former federal prosecutor Ben Dusing to represent him against a 10-count indictment including allegations of bribery, money laundering and attempted extortion.

During a Friday press conference, Dusing urged people not to rush to judgment saying this indictment is nothing more than allegations.

The attorney added that there is more to this story based on the evidence he has seen.

“How do you tell a good lie? You only tell part of the truth,” Dusing stated. “I’m not saying that’s the case here, but I can tell you there’s more to the story.”

With a lot still unknown, Dusing said Pastor has yet to make a decision on whether to step down from his City Council position.

Dusing is also raising questions about the motives of those working with the federal officials in the case and audio recordings of Pastor.

He also suggests Pastor may have evidence of his own.

“What if someone believes they are the subject of an entrapment and plays along but doesn’t deliver the goods, so to speak? These are hypothetical questions that might be relevant here," Dusing said Thursday.

“I can hypothesize a circumstance where the government is so intent on ensnaring someone that their efforts become so transparent that the person who understands they are at risk sort of takes precaution against things being misunderstood.

“There’s a lot of obvious questions about why everyone seems to be coming out of the woodwork amongst the development community to turn on ostensibly council members. I prosecuted for five years and, gee, I wish I had such cooperation from some of the city’s high-powered elite. Most of them typically don’t prefer to involve themselves in these matters.”

An indictment unsealed earlier this week accuses Pastor of soliciting and receiving $55,000 in bribes in exchange for his votes on council for two development projects August 2018 to February 2019. The allegations against Pastor trace back to the former Convention Place Mall at 435 Elm Street.

He is charged with 10 counts including wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion by a government official, and money laundering.

Federal prosecutors say Pastor began soliciting money from developers shortly after he took office in early 2018 and at times accepted bags of cash in return for his vote or other favorable treatment.

His business partner, Tyran Marshall, also is charged in the corruption case. Prosecutors describe him as “a middleman” who arranged for some payments and set up a charitable nonprofit Pastor used to “sanitize” money from the alleged bribes.

The federal investigation included undercover FBI agents posing as developers and using electronic surveillance. At least two whistleblowers also helped to uncover the pay-to-play scheme, according to the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

That included, they say, a trip to Miami with a developer and solicitations by Pastor for cash, investment opportunities, and jobs.

Throughout the investigation, prosecutors say, Pastor suggested dollar amounts for the bribes and directed the agents on how to pay them.

At times, cash was literally handed to Pastor, DeVillers has said, calling it “brazen."

Federal authorities allege Pastor accepted bribes to help former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe obtain Convention Place Mall so he could redevelop it.

Ndukwe worked as a “cooperating witness” for the FBI, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers told reporters at a news conference earlier this week.

If Pastor is convicted on all charges, he faces up to 90 years in prison.

Dusing stops short of saying Pastor may have taped interactions with whistleblowers.

“That is one way of doing it,” he said.

DeVillers said earlier this week Ndukwe cooperated with the FBI as a confidential informant after agents sought his help.

Ndukwe cooperated because he was frustrated with “being shaken down” while working on city development projects, according to DeVillers.

“I can’t speak to that at this point and I am not sure very precisely they alleged that," Dusing responded when asked about the money Pastor is alleged to have taken.

"They might have alleged that in part, but there were other actors involved here. That’s what alleged. People take money for all kinds of reasons.”

Pastor has not publicly spoken since his arrest Tuesday, and his wife has declined comment when we went to his home.

He did not attend Thursday’s City Council meeting and asked to be excused.

“He’s hanging in there as anybody in his position," Dusing said. "It’s a difficult walk for anybody in his position so he’s doing ok, as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Dusing said.

Several local officials including some of his City Hall colleagues including Mayor John Cranley and Councilmember Betsy Sundermann have called for his resignation.

If Pastor does decide to step down, the process to select his replacement has already been laid out.

When Pastor was sworn in, like all council members, he had to designate a fellow council member or members to select his replacement should he be unable to fulfill his term.

He chose then-Councilwoman Amy Murray and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman. Murray has since left to work in President Donald Trump’s administration. That leaves Smitherman to make the decision, one he said Friday morning he would solely make after consulting with others.

Pastor is the second city council member this year charged with taking bribes from developers.

Tamaya Dennard resigned from council after her arrest in February on fraud and bribery charges.

The two cases are not connected, federal authorities have said, but they do show a “culture of corruption” in Cincinnati and northern Ohio in Toledo.

Dennard pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud earlier this year, admitting she took $15,000 in exchange for her vote on a development deal involving The Banks, court records show.

She faces more than two years in prison when she is sentenced Nov. 24.

Pastor’s charges also are “done,” but the federal investigation continues, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said during a news conference earlier this week.

“We have a way to go,” he said. “We still have some prosecutions to do.”

Dusing said Thursday he was unaware of the government’s scope of the investigation.

Pastor’s case is set to go to trial on Jan. 11, 2021, according to court documents.

Dusing has taken on several high-profile federal cases in recent years.

He is currently representing Evans Landscaping owner Doug Evans, who was convicted on minority contracting fraud charges and is now appealing.

A federal judge has delayed Evans' prison report date four times now at Dusing’s request and is now mulling whether Evans should serve his 21-month sentence in home confinement due to COVID-19 concerns.

Dusing has won acquittals for Kenwood Towne Place developer Matt Daniels on fraud charges and the Cincinnati VA’s former chief of staff Dr. Barbara Temeck on prescription drug charges.

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