CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A developer and a Sycamore Township trustee are trading accusations of bribery and forgery in separate lawsuits.
Morelia Group CEO Christopher Hildebrant sued Sycamore Township Trustee Tom Weidman in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court earlier this month.
He accuses Weidman of soliciting bribes for proposed land deals in Sycamore Township’s Kenwood area between 2009 and 2012, the lawsuit shows.
This comes after Weidman sued Hildebrant for defamation in February in Warren County Common Pleas Court. Weidman’s lawsuit alleges Hildebrant created a “fake email” to make it look like Weidman solicited a bribe.
Weidman’s lawsuit says the the bribery accusation as “a vicious lie.”
“When Mr. Hildebrant refused to pay the bribes that Weidman demanded, Weidman exacted revenge over a period of many years by using his power as a Township Trustee to prevent Mr. Hildebrant from conducting any real estate development business in Sycamore Township,” the Morelia lawsuit reads.
“Weidman’s retaliation peaked in 2019, when he prevented Plaintiff Morelia Group, which is operated by Mr. Hildebrant, from purchasing property owned by Sycamore Township for a planned commercial development project.”
Weidman says in his lawsuit he opposed the development because the two other township trustees, Tom James and Jim LaBarbara, wanted to sell the $10 million property to Hildebrant below the appraised value.
“Weidman believes that James, LaBarbara and Hildebrant are each working to remove Weidman from office to eliminate Weidman’s objections to the sale,” his lawsuit states. “He accused LaBarbara and James of spreading the false information, which caused “people to question Weidman’s reputation, thus bringing him into hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame and disgrace.”
Weidman’ suit attaches an exhibit showing the alleged “fake email,” that Hildebrant concedes to in his response to the litigation.
Hildebrant’s attorneys at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in downtown Cincinnati tell FOX19 NOW they are confidant they can prove everything in his lawsuit.
“That email was indeed written by Mr. Hildebrant, and sent to himself,” said Chad Ziepfel, one of Hildebrant’s three lawyers.
“As explained in the complaint filed by Morelia Group-DE, LLC against Mr. Weidman in Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Hildebrant found himself in the unenviable position of being on the receiving end of bribe requests by both Mr. Weidman and Stanford Roberts, a representative of SDI Foods. In an effort to avoid paying the bribe demanded by Mr. Roberts, Mr. Hildebrant told him that Mr. Weidman had also demanded bribes in connection with the transaction (as well as previous transactions). Mr. Hildebrant composed the email and, in 2011, sent it to Mr. Roberts to provide some semblance of proof of Mr. Weidman’s bribe requests.”
James and LaBarbara both tell FOX19 NOW they weren’t trying to remove Weidman or sell property to Hildebrant at a reduced value.
“(Weidman) seems to have some sort of paranoid fantasy that we are conspiring against him,” James said.
James told FOX19 NOW Hildebrant informed him of the Weidman bribery allegations, and he consulted the township’s attorney. Then, he said he felt obligated to contact the FBI, State Auditor’s Office and the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The FBI and Ethics Commission declined to confirm or deny any investigation.
An auditor’s spokeswoman did not respond yet for comment.
The Ohio auditor’s office began an investigation into the bribery allegations last year, court records show.
Hildebrant invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was questioned by auditor’s investigators and declined to cooperate.
The auditor’s office dropped the investigation due to “lack of witness cooperation” and inability to get bank records dating back 10 years, according to the court documents.
No criminal charges have been filed.
“Tom Weidman emphatically denies the allegations in the Morelia complaint,” his lawyer, Todd McMurtry, wrote in a statement to FOX19 NOW. “He has never taken a bribe, which is why he initiated a defamation claim against Mr. Hildebrandt.
McMurtry said they are not aware of any FBI investigation into this.
He is the Northern Kentucky lawyer who successfully represented former Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann in defamation lawsuits against CNN, the Washington Post and other media.
“When the Ohio Auditor of State investigated the false charge that he had accepted a bribe, Mr. Weidman cooperated fully and volunteered to sit for a polygraph examination. Mr. Hildebrandt refused to testify, claiming his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but admitted he forged a fake email that falsely stated Mr. Weidman solicited a bribe. After an extensive investigation with subpoenas and depositions, the Ohio Auditor closed the case with no finding of wrongdoing by Mr. Weidman. He looks forward to vindicating himself in the courts.”
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