Federal authorities investigating corruption claims within the city of Toledo, Ohio, have charged five people — including four members of the city council — as part of an alleged bribery scheme, according to the Washington Examiner.
FBI Special Agent Eric Smith revealed that his agency was made aware in 2018 of complaints that the suspects sought and received cash bribes from business owners in exchange for political favors.
An ensuing two-year investigation involved the use of wiretaps and surveillance, reportedly culminating in federal charges including extortion and bribery.
“Fundamental breach of the oaths of office”
“Citizens must be able to trust their elected officials and know that voting decisions are based on what is right for the community and not who paid the most,” Smith said, as the Examiner reported.
He went on to call the alleged criminal behavior a “fundamental breach of the oaths of office these officials took when assuming office and a breach of trust with those citizens who elected them.”
Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, a Democrat, also shared his thoughts, saying he was “shocked and heartbroken” to hear of the allegations against local officials.
He called it a “terrible day for Toledo — and for everyone who believes in the good that can be accomplished through public service,” noting that the city has a track record of keeping corruption at bay.
“I have no tolerance for public officials who abuse the trust of the citizens,” Kapszukiewicz said, according to the Examiner.
“Entitled to their day in court”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the accused “are entitled to their day in court, and they should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise,” urging locals to “say a prayer for our city and for the hope that justice will be done in this case.”
As U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman explained, a conviction on the bribery charge could lead to a 10-year maximum prison sentence while the extortion count has a possible penalty of twice that length.
“These council members are charged with federal violations, but they are also charged with violating the public trust, and they did that for their own personal financial gain,” he said, according to a local NBC affiliate.
The Justice Department is obviously interested in rooting out corruption at every level across the U.S. Unfortunately, the alleged scheme uncovered in Toledo probably just the tip of the iceberg.