More incriminating evidence surfaced this weekend in Mike DeWine’s ever-growing pay to play scandal when the Dayton Daily News published the results of their investigation into how AG’s office awards lucrative contracts for collections work. The article provides the most convincing evidence yet that DeWine is personally handing out state work to his friends and donors.
In the most shocking example, “Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine passed over more experienced vendors in favor of a friend’s new collections agency,” said the paper. The experienced firm, Value Recovery Group (VRG), had done work for the past five attorneys general and had extensive experience in debt collection for Ohio. But under Mike DeWine, the firm was tossed out in favor of CELCO, a company that didn’t even exist until two days before DeWine’s selection process began. Emails obtained by Plunderbund show the firm wasn’t just inexperienced, it was also unqualified.
According to the DDN, DeWine set up a meeting with his friend Alex Arshinkoff shortly after taking office. Arshinkoff is the head of the Summit County Republican Party and a lobbyist who represents firms seeking work with DeWine’s office. DeWine emailed his staff asking them specifically to set up a meeting with Arshinkoff and his lobbying client Peter Spitalieri, the guy who would eventually form CELCO. “Please call Debbie Walsh in Alex arishnikoff (sic) office,” wrote DeWine. “He wants to bring in Pete spiteleri (sic).…The issue is collections. So figure out who needs to be in the meeting.”
When it came time to submit proposals, Spitalieri’s specifically “acknowledged [his] company had no experience handling collections accounts.” And yet, DeWine chose CELCO over VRG, a company with 20 years experience in collections. “We were absolutely flabbergasted,” VRG CEO Barry Fromm told the DDN.
So what would cause DeWine to choose a company with zero experience over a company with a decades-long proven track record?
“In his first 16 months in office, DeWine met four times with Arshinkoff and Spitalieri in his office, lunched with the two men at Spitalieri’s property in Hudson and held a conference call with them,” reported the DDN.
And while Arshinkoff the lobbyist was busy selling DeWine on his client Spitalieri, Arshinkoff the GOP chairman was using the Summit County Republican Party to funnel very large campaign contributions to DeWine. According to the DDN, Spitalieri and his family “sent $1,150 to Pat DeWine’s campaign and $35,000 to the Ohio Republican Party, plus $23,000 to the Summit County GOP” while the Summit County GOP, under Arshinkoff, has given “Mike DeWine’s campaign $405,500 since 2010.”
Additional emails obtained by Plunderbund show that CELCO wasn’t just inexperienced when they were selected by DeWine, they were also lacking the basic qualifications to do the job for which they were hired. The emails show that CELCO lacked licenses to do collections work in states other than Ohio. And even though CELCO was notified of their selection in June, by November they appear to have obtained a license for only one other state (Michigan). As a result, CELCO ended up sending assigned work back to the AG’s office because they weren’t licensed to handle it.
In November 2011 CELCO Collections Manager Kelly Toppin wrote an email to DeWine’s office attaching files they were unable to process because the firm lacked licenses: “Please see the attached Out of State files which we are not able to handle at this time;” she wrote . “Please have reassigned.” The email continued to excitedly announce that CELCO “can now work MI files, so please forward any MI work that is available… Thanks!”
There’s no doubt that Fromm’s Value Recovery Group should have been selected over Spitalieri’s CELCO. One had 20 years experience. The other had no experience. One firm worked for the state under under five attorneys general. The other was created two days before the selection process started. One was licensed to operate in nearly every U.S. state. The other appears to have had no licenses except for Ohio when they were selected.
Yet, Spitalieri and his brand new, inexperienced and unqualified company CELCO won out. And it’s absolutely clear why: Spitalieri and Arshinkoff gave more money than Fromm. End of story.