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Columbus ‘green energy’ ballot campaign leader sentenced to jail

A Franklin County judge described the ongoing effort to put a ‘green energy’ initiative on the Columbus ballot as an illegitimate attempt to steal taxpayers’ money when he sentenced its leader Tuesday to 120 days in jail for filing a false campaign finance report in 2019.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Chris M. Brown also sentenced John A. Clark Jr., 50, of the Near East Side, to pay a $2,500 fine, perform 250 hours of labor general interest and five years probation.

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“I’m specifically going to have community service go through the Columbus Parks Department so you can work with the people you were trying to steal money from. You’ll be working in programs that would have been shut down if you were successful, “Brown said.

What were the Columbus “green energy” ballot initiatives?

Clark has led several petition campaigns in recent years to get a ‘green energy’ initiative put on the Columbus ballot that, if passed, would have diverted more than $40 million of taxpayer dollars. of the city budget to ProEnergy Ohio LLC, a limited company. partnership group led by Clark.

After a back-and-forth with the city council and the courts, a version of the initiative that would have redirected $87 million to ProEnergy Ohio passed last November. He was solidly beaten.

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A Franklin County jury found Clark — who also went by John Clarke — guilty on May 16 of one count of election tampering, a fifth-degree felony.

The jury found Clark not guilty on two other counts: a second count of tampering with elections and one count of tampering with government documents, a third-degree felony. The jury was unable to rule on a second count of tampering with government documents.

William Ireland II, one of Clark’s defense attorneys, said they would appeal the sentence, which they felt was too harsh.

“We are shocked by this condemnation of a family man who has worked diligently for clean energy efforts here in Ohio,” Ireland said. “The entire initiative had a blueprint. The prosecution repeatedly misrepresented the nature of the clean energy initiative.”

Clark’s lawyers called the crime an honest mistake for which Clark took responsibility.

The charge Clark was found guilty of relates to false information provided in a campaign finance report filed with the City of Columbus Campaign Finance Office on August 18, 2019. It was in connection with a campaign of petition in 2019 for a ballot measure that would have redirected $57 million from the Columbus budget to ProEnergy Ohio.

Prosecutors said investigators found five people listed in the 2019 report — one who contributed $13,000 and the other four contributed $10,000 each — had given nothing at all.

“It’s theft”, says the judge

“This was an attempt to steal millions from the taxpayer,” said Joseph Gibson Jr., a special prosecutor handling the case.

Judge Brown agreed: ‘What you’re trying to do is you’re asking the taxpayers of the city to fund this business which is stripped down at best. And to do that, you file these bogus campaign reports to make it look like it was a serious problem. Intention matters. … This is clearly something that is not a legitimate political proposal. This is theft.”

Prior to sentencing, Brown asked Clark to explain how the initiative would have worked had it passed. The group has never been very specific about exactly how the money it wants the city to give it would be used, who would benefit from it, and who is behind the effort.

Clark, visibly nervous, tried to explain how his group allegedly worked with NY Green Bank, a New York State entity, to provide subsidies to Columbus electricity customers who switch to an electricity supplier. green energy.

Brown called it an ineffective elevator pitch.

“You don’t go to a bank and ask for $57 million and then say, ‘I don’t have a plan yet. Just give me the money, I’ll control everything,'” Brown said.

At this, Clark tried to interrupt the judge, saying, “I had deals.” Clark’s attorneys silenced Clark.

Jordan Laird is a criminal justice reporter at the Columbus Dispatch. You can reach her at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @LairdWrites.