OH lawmaker facing new counts yields chairmanship

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The speaker of the state House said Thursday a southwest Ohio lawmaker has agreed to give up his powerful committee chairmanship after a new indictment that alleges he engaged in a pattern of corruption.

Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, said Republican Rep. Pete Beck would relinquish chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, "effective immediately."

A grand jury in Cincinnati on Thursday brought 53 new counts against Beck, including one alleging a pattern of corruption. Beck already faced trial in April after an indictment last year on 16 felony counts.

The Ways and Means Committee helps review and set tax policy; it recently has been weighing a proposed tax hike on oil and gas drillers.

"There are several important initiatives currently being considered by this committee that must continue uninterrupted," Batchelder said in a statement. "These are proposals that will have a long-standing impact on the state of Ohio, and all Ohioans can rest assured that the House will continue the hardworking effort on these initiatives."

Batchelder added that he thought it would be best for Beck to also resign his seat, but noted that he didn't have the sole authority to remove any member of the House.

Beck rejected calls last year to resign after the first indictment, and filed this year to seek re-election. He has Republican opposition in the May 6 primary.

He was accused in Thursday's indictment of being part of an enterprise that misled investors, laundered money and improperly diverted investors' money. Beck is accused of passing some of the money to his campaign committee; the indictment says a Cincinnati church charged Thursday also received investors' money through the enterprise.

The indictment accuses Beck of repeatedly lying to securities regulators and contains the most serious charge yet. If convicted of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, Beck would face a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison on that count alone.

The new charges were announced by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is jointly prosecuting the case with the Hamilton County prosecutor's office. Beck, 61, was indicted last July on 16 felony counts and is scheduled for trial April 7.

His attorneys said Thursday they were still reviewing the new indictment, but that the charges appeared to be based on the same evidence as the earlier ones. They said Beck looks forward to trial, and is confident he will be acquitted on all counts.

"The charges contained in both indictments are merely accusations -- false allegations as to Peter Beck -- and Mr. Beck steadfastly maintains his innocence in this matter," said the statement from attorneys Ralph Kohnen and Chad Ziepfel.

The former mayor of the northern Cincinnati suburb of Mason had criticized the earlier allegations as "scandalous."

The latest indictment alleges that that Beck solicited and persuaded investors to put thousands of dollars into an insolvent software company, misrepresented pending business deals such as one supposedly involving a major cruise line, stole money from his accounting firm, and put investors' money into his political campaign fund, Friends of Pete Beck.

"To cover up/hide his true involvement in this matter, Beck perjured himself a number of times in testimony to the Ohio Division of Securities," stated the indictment, which includes 10 perjury counts.

Both DeWine and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters are also Republicans.

The indictment identifies several people allegedly associated with the enterprise, two of them deceased. The Ark by the River Fellowship Ministries Inc. and Janet Combs, identified as its pastor, were both indicted on nine counts, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. The indictment says money investors thought was going into the software company or other investments went to the church, which is called "a cult" in the indictment.

A telephone message was left Thursday at the church.

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Associated Press reporter Ann Sanner contributed in Columbus.

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