Former Ohio lawmaker gets 3 years in prison

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A former Ohio state lawmaker attributed years of falsified campaign finance reports and misspending to "errors in judgment" Tuesday ahead of being sentenced to three years in prison for election falsification, grand theft and other charges.

Under a plea deal, four-term Dayton Democrat Clayton Luckie will also have to repay the salary of $11,893 that he collected from the time of his indictment last fall to the end of his term Dec. 31 and serve three years' probation when released. He reports to prison March 18.

Luckie told visiting Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Alan Travis that he always did his best for the people who elected him. He apologized publicly to his constituents, his family and his Statehouse colleagues.

"I apologize to those who looked up to me as a role model," Luckie told the judge. "I tell them that I'm human and I fell short in this instance."

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Luckie did more than fall short. He engaged in a pattern of illegal activity that began with the first campaign finance report he filed as a lawmaker in 2006 through to falsified documents submitted after an investigation was launched against him.

State and federal investigators found that Luckie skimmed nearly $130,000 in campaign funds for personal use and failed to list campaign expenditures for six years.

"Almost from the beginning, there were checks and cash withdrawals that were converted for personal use on the largest scale I have seen," O'Brien said. The Ohio Secretary of State's office told O'Brien it is the largest such case of campaign finance misappropriation ever documented.

"When public officials betray the trust that has been given to them, it can have a devastating impact on our system of government," Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge Edward Hanko said in a statement. "These officials are accountable for their actions and when they violate the law, there are very real consequences."

Luckie was indicted in October on 49 felony counts, 42 of which were dropped as part of the plea deal -- while the grand theft charge was added. He faced more than 10 years in prison combined, but the judge agreed to O'Brien's recommendation that the sentences be imposed concurrently.

Luckie will be eligible for early release in six months and his attorney, Lloyd Pierre-Louis, said he most likely would request release at that time. O'Brien said he will oppose early release barring Luckie being able to provide significant help to the ongoing FBI investigation into campaign activity surrounding Ohio payday lending legislation.

Pierre-Louis agreed with Luckie's explanation to the judge that he was "stretched too thin," saying he didn't understand how to properly manage campaign finance reports. All sides agreed Tuesday that Luckie's campaign finance misdeeds did not touch his legislative work.

"The issues weren't that he was in his mind intentionally dipping into his campaign account for purposes of stealing," Pierre-Louis said. "This was an issue where in his view he had certain rights, certain opportunities to spend properly, and those unfortunately were comingled at times."

After news of the investigation went public last year, Luckie agreed not to seek re-election. He declined to resign over the objections of Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish and the state Republican party -- staying in office through the end of the session.

House Democratic leaders stripped Luckie of his committee assignments after he was indicted, and he didn't return to the Statehouse for any votes.

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