Report: Vendor funds targeted lawmakers in Internet-cafe issue
A supplier for Ohio’s embattled Internet cafe industry apparently targeted state lawmakers with campaign contributions before a key vote, according to a published report Saturday.
The contributions were detailed by The Plain Dealer based on information from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty.
The targets of the lobbying campaign included four House members, three of whom joined a minority voting against a bill that would effectively eliminate Ohio’s 800 Internet cafes.
Lawmakers reached by the paper said they were not certain why they were singled out. Most said they did not know without checking whether they had received contributions.
“I’ve made it clear to everyone, including my colleagues, that these things are illegal and should be shut down,” said Sen. Shannon Jones, a Republican from Springboro in southwest Ohio. “I hope for the opportunity to do just that in the Senate.”
Twenty other targeted lawmakers are in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Ohio House approved a bill late last year intended to regulate the cafes. It failed to gain traction in the Senate, but the House passed a new proposal in March that is pending in a Senate committee.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine calls the cafes illegal gambling operations and wants they shut down.
The industry calls them legal. Patrons buy cards for phone and Internet time with chances to play computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes.
There was no comment from the vendor, VS2 Worldwide Communications of Farmingdale, N.J., in response to an email query Saturday. The office phone went unanswered repeatedly.
On Thursday, a grand jury in Cleveland indicted 11 people and eight companies, including VS2 and the man who controls the firm, after raids at six storefront Internet cafes in Cleveland and its suburbs. Charges include money laundering, racketeering and possession of criminal tools.
McGinty alleges VS2 is the leader of a multistate Internet gambling syndicate.
According to the report, a March 5 email instructed a company representative to have Ohio cafe owners write $1,000 checks to the Senate Republican campaign committee and $250 checks to the campaigns of the House and Senate members.
Whether the checks were delivered remains unclear because lawmakers have until July to report their latest contributions, the newspaper said.
McGinty said the email account is controlled by the operator of VS2 Worldwide Communications.