Full disclosure: Brian Higgins is a friend and a sometimes client. Also- this is long, but so is the comedy of errors in this community.
If you believe a jolly fat man from the North Pole, keeps a list of who’s naughty and nice, slides down your chimney, leaves gifts for your kids, and flies away in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, this story is just about as far-fetched, and unbelievable.
The first you heard about it was on April 30, 2019, when the FBI, DOJ and the State Attorney General trotted out indictments of four well-respected Black men in our community and labeled them as the first round of a massive investigation into the “Culture of Corruption” in Dayton, Ohio.
The investigation had been going on for years- as far back as 2013- when local FBI Special Agent Lance Kepple latched onto a former employee of the local demolition czar, Steve Rauch. Kepple turned Michael E Marshall into a “Confidential Human Source” or “Confidential Informant” and began to pay him. Looking him up in Montgomery County Pro Court reporting site, you’ll find that Mr. Marshall liked to drive fast, not pay his bills, his lawyers, or his taxes. Marshall, an Army veteran, had a bad reputation around town with one of his companies, “Drywall Wizard.” His other company was “United Demolition” where he had another x-Rauch employee, Scott Waters, working with him, were trying to move in on Rauch’s turf. Marshall would tell people he was working as a Confidential Informant. Not exactly the most brilliant bulb in the box.
Rauch had more than a few enemies in town. One of his employees once called and told me that Rauch used farm diesel illegally in his demolition equipment long ago (Farm Diesel is a different color than regular diesel, and doesn’t include road taxes, saving farmers money), but how would I prove or report that? It could have been Marshall or Waters for all I know.
The Feds seem to like paying shady people to be informants, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on people of questionable value. But that’s ok, because the local politicians in Dayton love to spend tax dollars on demolition contracts. We’ll pay to tear down buildings left and right. One of my favorite examples of stupidity goes way back, when the beautiful church at the corner of Brown and 6th in the Oregon District had to be torn down, right after the city had spent $88K putting a new roof on it (they added shingles on top and the extra weight started to push the walls out). Of course, there are much more recent examples, like the money they paid Rauch to demolish the old Dayton Daily News building on S. Ludlow, which was a complete comedy of corruption. First error was the giving millions to a company called Student Suites that promised to build student housing for Sinclair students on the site. This was supposed to be an $18M investment, but the only people who got paid were Student Suites, Rauch and then Bladecutters, who had to come in and fill the hole Rauch left. Somehow Rauch still has the old Cox building which he’s allowing to sit and rot.
Some would say that this ClusterDuck of a project was the beginning of the investigation, but it should have started long ago.
I wrote about how both Nan Whaley and Rhine McLin got big donations in 2009 from a Columbus area “business man” Kitt Cooper who happened to own the Vance Road Landfill. McLin got $10K and Whaley $5k: those kinds of amounts aren’t even allowed to go to congressmen, and for good reason. Filling landfills is almost as important as governing in Dayton, Ohio: at least if you want to get re-elected. It was even rumored that McLin and Rauch used to date (don’t worry: there was also a rumor that I dated her, too).
There has been pay-to-play in Dayton for decades. There are “preferred developers” who’ve tithed the right amounts and kissed the right rings, and then there are the other “rogue developers” who get screwed at every turn: from building permits that take forever, to no support for applications for Federal Tax Credits, development in Dayton has been a toll road with local pols running the toll booths. Want to run a dance club in Downtown- make sure you hold fundraisers for the commission if you don’t want to be hassled out of business.
And it’s not just developers and dance club owners, it’s every single vendor who wants to do business with the city: if you don’t pay, you don’t play. Need proof? Go to the supporters of Issue 9 and cross-reference donation amounts with the size of the contracts. This is what the Feds should have been doing instead of sending Mike Marshall in with a wire to record his acquaintances. But that would require FBI agents that could actually spell and add 2+2 and get four.
Marshall was talking to a few people about how he was going to weasel his way into his former boss’s playground. He’d met Brian Higgins, who had a hip new bar on the ground floor of the 130 W. Second St building, next to the Federal building. He’d been introduced to Higgins by another veteran who ran in the private security business. Marshall, had always wanted to be a cop, and even had a badge from some podunk in Kentucky which he used to flash when he thought it would get him some traction.
United Demolition supposedly had offices in the 130 W Second building. Higgins, a fellow veteran who’s never met a stranger, offered to introduce Marshall to some of the power brokers on minority business contracts. The first was Roshawn Winburn who ran the City’s minority business contracting office. Winburn, a former Huber Heights councilman, and son of long time Dem Party hack and former State Rep Roland Winburn, was making decent money from the city. But both Roshawn Winburn and Commissioner Joey Williams had seen everyone around them getting fat off the backs of the taxpayers and thought they could, too.
At one point in the FBI investigation, “Winburn said Williams will normally send an email telling him (Winburn) to contact the company and work with them and see if he can help them out” this was right after “Winburn folds the envelope in half and places in the back pocket of his pants and CHS (Marshall) asks Winburn, “is that enough respect for you this go around” To which Winburn replies, “yeah, we’re good”
Marshall, Higgins, and Winburn tossed around ideas to convince Commissioner Joey Williams to help them get contracts from both the City and the City-owned, quasi-government slush fund CityWide Development Corp. As a City Commissioner, Williams was still funding CityWide and as a local Bank president had pull on who was going to do what, yet he, too, was going to get a scrape. While Williams had plenty of money between his bank presidency job, commission pay, and a wife who is a successful TV journalist, the rest of them didn’t have two nickels to rub together.
The feds got tape on Marshall handing Winburn bags of cash and tapes of him talking about how they’d set up the new demolition company- a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned business, eligible for preferences on Federal dollars- using Ring Central to make it sound like they were a big company. Marshall met with Williams on Jan 23, 2015 at approximately 7: 15 am at the Brunch Club on South Main Street in Dayton OH., and suggested Marshall would build him a new patio enclosure. He even sketched it out on a napkin for Marshall. The thing was that Marshall was broke. Couldn’t even buy the materials. But here’s where Higgins came to the rescue: he’d had a huge fish tank spring a leak in his million-dollar home on Meeker Creek, and was getting $110,000 to repair the hardwood floors, carpets, the fish tank, and whatever else. He “hired” Marshall to supervise repairing the damage with the money the insurance company handed Higgins to make the repairs.
That money enclosed Williams’s patio, and Marshall managed to get a quarter million dollar contract back in 2016 – a contract he muffed so bad, the city banned him from bidding in the future.
But here’s why the Feds got on Santa’s naughty list, by the time the city had awarded the contract to Marshall, Williams had already been turned into a CHS (confidential human source).
On October 2, 2015, the Feds had their first debrief with Williams- I published it on March 1, 2020 – along with the rest of the Williams corruption story. And to be clear, the Feds were excited to hear Williams first report. There were a gaggle of them present:
The “case agent” was Matthew J DeBlauw, sitting in for the big “reveal” were Agents: Kepple, Kirkpatrick, and two AUSA’s Tabacchi and Sistia.
In this first meeting, Williams gave them diddly squat.
So we had an elected official, caught in a trap, continuing to pretend he was a pillar of the community, and even running for office again, while working for the Feds- not for you and me.
Williams was even there voting to award a contract to Marshall, the loser FBI confidential informant who built his patio. At the same time, the feds were investigating Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley for payola– something that came out soon after I filed a FOIA request on August 10, 2021, to get tapes of Whaley talking smack about contracts that the Feds had played to the same grand jury that indicted Williams, Winburn, Clayton Luckie, and Brian Higgins. More than likely, Williams was the CHS that recorded those, but, we won’t know until a Federal Judge gets off his butt and has a hearing in my case. There is no reason those tapes need to be secret- we paid a lot for them, her criminal actions already cost us millions, and obviously, the tapes must exonerate Whaley- since she’s out raising millions in her run for Governor.
The Feds still hadn’t indicted any of these petty criminals: Winburn still had his job when he was arrested by the FBI on the morning of the press conference on April 30, 2019. Williams got to continue being a city commissioner and was even allowed to run for re-election by the hapless feds, with an agreement in place that he’d resign if re-elected, which he did in Feb of 2019, saying his new job as president of a different bank was too time consuming. He had to give that job up once he was indicted but he’d been getting paid just like any normal crooked politician all the time back to 2015 when he turned snitch. The Feds concealed a felon’s actions from the voters as part of the deal in exchange for his wearing a wire, all the way up to the day when Williams’s youngest son graduated from Stivers High School, April 30, 2019. Indictment day.
So, either Williams was a horrible informant, or the Feds have been covering up other people’s crimes, you know the white ones who never get prosecuted in Dayton. Not hard to believe if you think about all the time Williams was allowed to snitch.
None of this is news to those of you who’ve read all my posts. We know that Williams pleaded guilty to one count of corruptly soliciting a bribe and was sentenced to a year in the federal pen, but only had to do 3 months, and now he’s the proprietor, as a convicted felon, of a liquor-serving establishment in Downtown Dayton: the 1 eleven Flavor House.
Clayton Luckie did more time than Williams in the pen, despite being a nobody with no power. Luckie had pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in a scheme involving the city of Dayton’s disadvantaged business program. In November U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Rose sentenced Luckie to four months in prison, four months home detention, three years supervised release and 100 hours of community service. Luckie’s grand criminal haul- $2000. Let’s see, Whaley and Dickstein hand out millions- and Luckie is an arch criminal mastermind? Was it because this was Luckie’s second conviction (he’d spent 3 years in prison for misuse of campaign money when he was in the Ohio House of Representatives), or was it because, Williams was a snitch?
Winburn is set to report to prison January 10, 2022 for a measly 6 months: the same day Higgins is supposed to go to court in the final unresolved indictment in the “culture of corruption” which is, according to the FBI no longer an ongoing investigation. Mr. Bags of Cash Winburn should have reported to jail a year ago- but, somehow, he keeps getting delayed- every time Higgin’s trial gets moved.
Higgins is the X-factor.
By not rolling over and playing dead, Higgins is pushing for going to court, with a jury trial. The Keystone Cops led by AUSA Brent Tabacchi, have never wanted to go to court, because then their dirty laundry comes out. I’m sure a jury will question Tabacchi’s credibility when they learn he helped a known criminal run for office and win- debasing the democratic process and undermining our confidence in elections and government.
Despite spending millions since 2013, their case was built based on a sleezy CI- Mike Marshall. Despite all the talk of bags of cash being delivered by Willis Blackshear (former County recorder, now deceased) from Rauch to Commissioners– the best they could do is fine him $15K– which is rounding error on the amount of money he has made in tearing down Dayton for the crooked commission. Rauch’s sin was lying about minority participation in his contracts- saying he had hired Joyce Cameron’s husbands company to do work, when in fact, they just signed the paperwork.
The Higgins case took a few twists and turns lately: he terminated his court appointed attorneys, who had written a stellar defense of their expert witness who was being called on to explain how the insurance companies were negligent. (see below). The Feds had claimed that the expert’s testimony is immaterial because this is a mail fraud case, not insurance fraud. Now, it’s just a simple fraud case in the latest beating of their dead horse story.
And, would this even be a federal case if the insurance company and the mortgage company were both based in Ohio? Nope. This should have been a civil case from the jump.
For those of you who don’t know what “mail fraud” is- it’s the catch all felony for the Feds to get involved in places where they really don’t belong. Read about this janky boundaryless criminal charge as explained by a US Federal District Court Judge in NY.
The judge clearly states that “A mailing tangential to a fraudulent scheme is not sufficient to justify a federal case” and that’s all they have Higgins on. The fact that Higgins communicated to insurance companies via the mail over a civil insurance fraud case is NOT enough to make it a Federal case.
That Judge Rose hasn’t thrown this whole thing out already is kind of a mystery at this point, but he’s yet to rule on the expert’s eligibility.
What’s extra embarrassing is the Feds have recharged Higgins. In their latest filing, they’ve changed their tune, at first calling it a complex mail fraud case, but, now it’s just a simple fraud case; but here’s the thing: the biggest fraud around here is the Feds.
Let me explain how insurance works by sharing some other examples. An intern had a Scion XB that got pelted with hail. She was handed $6K to fix all the pock marks on the car. She took the money, bought a new car, and sold me the hail damaged car, and that right NOT to repair was her right. An insurance company can’t tell you what to do with the settlement, but they could refuse to cover the car if it wasn’t repaired.
Another example was the beautiful Spanish-style commercial building, the Ecki building, at the corner of Wayne and Wyoming. Commercial space on the ground floor, apartments above: it burned in 2000. The owner collected several hundred thousand from his insurance, but never repaired it. The City of Dayton kept after him to repair the eyesore, until Shelly Dickstein (who was economic development director still) decided to buy it for $815K and then pay $95K to tear it down. That’s not insurance fraud- but what Dickstein did only made sense if she was working for a demolition company, the taxpayers now have an empty lot that doesn’t even collect taxes.
We’ve got lots of buildings in Dayton that burn, and instead of the city going after the owners, or their insurance money, to cover the demolition, we let the owners off – and make the taxpayers pay- and who gets paid? Most of the time, Steve Rauch.
So why was Higgins part of the “culture of corruption” again? How much taxpayer money did he misappropriate? Who did he pay off.
The Federal Prosecutor, Brent Tabacchi, seems to think that, because the insurance was force-placed on Higgins’s Meeker Creek home by the mortgage company, somehow Higgins shouldn’t be able to pocket the money. If that was the case, the insurance company should have paid the mortgage company, instead of sending a check to Higgins.
They should have also forced an eviction- if the mortgage hadn’t been paid. And, maybe, they should have managed the repairs themselves, after evicting Higgins. But they didn’t. And the feds, who were busy listening in on everything Higgins and Marshall were talking about- didn’t inform the insurance company of the crime they thought Higgins was committing.
That Higgins got the money and then spent it with their CI, Mike Marshall- who then took the money to grease Williams dirty palms with an enclosed patio, somehow makes Higgins a part of the “culture of corruption” is the Santa Claus explanation of how the presents end up under a tree.
Higgins isn’t a public official and the demolition company they were talking about opening never got off the ground. Higgins never got a dime of public money.
Higgins, unlike my intern, paid United Demolition to do the work, and someone did enough that the insurance company released additional funds to Higgins to continue the work.
Tabacchi, for some reason, thinks that he’s representing the people in what should be a civil case between the insurance company and Higgins. What’s even crazier is that three years after the work still wasn’t done, the mortgage company paid Higgins $8,500 to move out of the Meeker mansion in March of 2017 “In order to ease the financial or other burdens to Occupants.”
Now, why would the Mortgage company pay Higgins, or worry about his burdens, if he’d ripped them off?
That’s the problem: neither the insurance company or the mortgage company gave a shit about the house, the money or the repairs.
And why does Tabacchi?
Well, that’s a really good question. Considering Nan Whaley and Shelly Dickstein squandered millions of tax-payer dollars on the Student Suites/Dayton Daily News/ Schwind demolition deal, or the new Wayne Avenue Kroger deal that never happened, and the taxpayers ended up with a million-dollar-plus empty lot on the corner of Wayne and Wyoming, or the giving away of Garden Station to the Troll Pub folks (who’ve let it go to hell), or… we can keep going.
There is only one logical reason that this Higgins thing has been lingering and no one else has been indicted: Nan Whaley is now doing the same thing Joey Williams did- running for Governor, wearing a wire, recording donors for a sweep to counterbalance the Householder indictments (btw- no one has gone to prison for that fiasco- and Householder still hasn’t been found guilty).
If Santa was real, there are plenty of people to put on the naughty list, starting with the FBI agents that have run this half-assed investigation for over 8 years without managing to imprison a single white person in Dayton. Next up would be the judges who seem to think that this nonsense is worthy of their time. At worst, Williams, Winburn, Luckie, Higgins, former Trotwood Mayor Joyce Cameron and her husband (all Black) may have been in for a quarter of a million bucks worth of deals. Marshall and his partner and also CI, Scott Waters, got a quarter million dollar contract out on top of their federal paychecks, yet they are getting protected from prosecution (Tabacchi threw a hissy fit when Higgins sued United Demolition for failure to complete the work on Meeker Creek and called it “witness intimidation”, when in fact, Tabacchi and his FBI pals should be in prison for covering for Williams’s re-election run).
The feds even sent a warning out for anyone who had seen the Higgins Discovery to dispose of it and destroy it. Apparently, the law school Tabacchi went to, never taught him about the case the NYTimes won- granting rights to publish the Pentagon Papers. See NY Times Company vs the United States. The justices ruled that the government did not meet the “heavy burden” of proof required for prior restraint of the press. That was about a war, here we’re talking about small time racketeering by a bunch of half-witted dimwits who’ve managed to get elected.
Since the public destruction of the four Black men on April 30, 2019, I’ve had off the record conversations with business men, former high level city hall employees, developers, and all have said the same thing: Nothing gets done in city hall unless you pay to play. And, if you cross Nan Whaley, she’s a vindictive unforgiving witch who will make sure you’ll never forget who’s ring you failed to kiss.
And if you’ve been paying attention, you also have to wonder how no one got prosecuted out at White State, where $130M went missing – oh, did I slip and call Wright State “White State”? And how the Dayton Development Coalition keeps spreading fiction about how it somehow is the savior of one of the largest military installations in the country- which requires all the local governments to tithe to their coffers as well. Slush fund, quasi-governmental corruption in the region is a real crime- what Williams, Winburn, Luckie and Higgins did or didn’t do is immaterial in the grand scheme of things.
What happened at Wright State- that’s real money.
Yet we all know Santa isn’t real, and for that matter, neither is justice in Dayton, Ohio.
final note: I’d like to thank the people who have set up nominal monthly payments to my blog- supporting this kind of independent journalism. One woman said she was burned out trying to fight the battles, and was looking to pay those who were in the fight without widespread support. Thank you.