Southwest Ohio legislator faces more charges

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A veteran Ohio lawmaker already accused of theft and fraud for allegedly misleading investors was indicted Thursday on dozens of new charges, including one alleging a pattern of corruption.

Republican state Rep. Pete Beck, chairman of the powerful state House Ways and Means Committee, is accused 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 new 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 new 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.

Beck has drawn Republican opposition in the May 6 primary, after rejecting calls that he resign. The former mayor of the northern Cincinnati suburb of Mason had criticized the earlier allegations as "scandalous."

The latest charges allege 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.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday with the spokesman of the House Republican Caucus. 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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