The practice of lobbying and government relations, particularly on behalf of companies doing business with the government, has long been a focus of DOJ investigators and prosecutors. They are known to look skeptically at the purpose of “consulting fees,” particularly when those consulting fees appear to be spun into political contributions. One recent example is the case of lobbyist John P. Raphael, in a matter involving conduit contributions to elected officials in Ohio. Raphael agreed last Friday to plead guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to an information charging him with violation of the Hobbs Act.
According to the government, from March 2005 to February 2013, Mr. Raphael served as a lobbyist for RedFlex Traffic Systems, a vendor for red light traffic enforcement cameras. RedFlex apparently engaged Raphael to seek and obtain contracts for the Cities of Columbus and Cincinnati. At the time of his plea, Raphael admitted that he solicited campaign contributions from RedFlex on behalf of elected officials in Columbus and Cincinnati, and repeatedly pressured and induced the company to make contributions by advising the company that it would lose its contracts if it did not. The campaign contributions, which totaled more than $70,000 during this time period, were then funneled through Raphael in his own name and in the names of his family members and business associates.
In June, the former CEO of RedFlex, Karen Finley, pleaded guilty in the same case to an information charging her with conspiracy to commit Federal Programs Bribery and Honest Services Wire and Mail Fraud. In August, Finley also entered a plea of guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to similar charges regarding a $2 million bribery scheme in Chicago. The investigation in that case resulted in charges against Chicago city officials as well.
Neither Raphael nor Finley have been sentenced yet. No officials from the Cities of Columbus or Cincinnati have been charged in this case. According to the government release regarding the plea of Mr. Raphael, the investigation remains ongoing.