Prosecutor who launched bribery probe to depart soon

DeVillers has agreed to stay on while a successor is selected

By Julie Carr Smyth and Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The federal prosecutor leading an investigation into a $60 million bribery probe at the Ohio Statehouse says his imminent departure from the office won’t affect the outcome of the case.

U.S. Attorney David DeVillers announced the investigation in July, considered the biggest ever criminal probe involving the seat of Ohio government. He has promised continued prosecution of individuals facing charges, while saying the investigation is ongoing.

DeVillers, 54, was a career criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office before being named to the agency’s top job as an appointee of former President Donald Trump. The bribery probe was underway before DeVillers took the position.

DeVillers oversees the Southern District of Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and most of southern Ohio. Before becoming U.S. Attorney, he led the largest federal homicide case in Ohio history, prosecuting members of a violent Columbus gang called the Short North Posse.

DeVillers told The Associated Press last week that he anticipates being able to stay in the job long enough to bring his list of high priority cases to the grand jury, probably toward the end of March. The panel has been on hiatus due to the coronavirus.

“With the grand jury coming back and with the time I have, I’m comfortable that we’ll get those into shape and ready to go,” he said. “That investigation will be fine.”

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office confirmed that the senator has asked DeVillers to stay on while a successor is selected and that DeVillers has agreed. That could likely take until late spring or early summer.
DeVillers must leave the U.S. Attorney’s office altogether as a leader who was appointed by a president.

Brown recently issued a call for applicants to fill critical law enforcement vacancies for Ohio’s Southern District, including U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal. Both positions are nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In the bribery probe, five individuals including former GOP House Speaker Larry Householder were accused of shepherding $60 million  in energy company money for personal and political use in exchange for passing a legislative bailout of two aging nuclear plants and then derailing an attempt to place a rejection of the bailout on the ballot. The government refers to the operation in court documents as “the Enterprise.”

In October, two of those individuals, both Ohio political operatives, pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired as part of what another defendant called an “unholy alliance” aimed at bailing out the power plants.

Such public corruption investigations are typically coordinated with the Justice Department — as the Ohio probe has been — and so aren’t affected by a change in leadership, said Carter Stewart, who held DeVillers’ post as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in the administration of President Barack Obama.

“It shouldn’t make a huge different in how it’s resolved,” Stewart said.

He added: “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is a really good experienced office and will be able to well handle the transition of leadership.”