By Ed Runyan
Warren real-estate executive Scott Lewis has received a public reprimand from the Ohio Ethics Commission after Lewis admitted he violated Ohio law by earning a $97,366 commission on a 2009 real-estate deal tied to his role as a Western Reserve Port Authority member.
Lewis signed an agreement with the commission April 17 that says he had a conflict of interest, because he “participated in board matters directly related to a real-estate transaction in which he represented Davis International Inc.”
Lewis earned the $97,366 commission for brokering the sale of a building on Ridge Road on the western edge of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, from Davis International of Youngstown to Millwood Inc. in 2009. The port authority runs the airport.
Lewis is a member of the port authority, which approved a lease with Millwood that was necessary for the sale to occur. Lewis abstained from voting on the lease, but he “participated through comments, discussions, email correspondence and attendance at meetings on several occasions on matters” related to the lease, the settlement agreement says.
The Vindicator published a story in October 2010 about an audio recording the newspaper obtained showing how closely involved Lewis was with the board regarding the Millwood lease. It shows that Lewis participated in a closed-door meeting among the port authority members and the Millwood president. It shows that after the closed-door meeting ended, then-chairman John Masternick said: “And just for the record, we seem to have ironed out all the details” of the Millwood lease.
Fellow board member Don Hanni, attending his first meeting as a newly appointed member Feb. 18, 2009, initially thought Lewis was participating in that way just to share his real estate expertise so the port authority could finally find a use for the long-vacant air-cargo building. Hanni said only later did he realize that Lewis was the real-estate agent who would profit from the lease. Hanni filed the complaint in 2010 that led to the ethics investigation.
The board’s current chairman, Atty. James Floyd, issued a statement Friday, saying the port authority cooperated throughout the ethics investigation, “and we look forward to working with [Lewis] in the years ahead.”
He said the board has a “commitment to maintaining the highest possible ethical standards and to operating openly, honestly and accountably at all times and in all matters.”
He added that the board has a “zero tolerance policy for even the slightest appearance of impropriety,” and “will do everything possible to ensure that a similar episode never again occurs under our watch.”
Lewis’ conduct violated the Influence Peddling statute of Ohio Ethics law, according to the settlement agreement. That statute excludes public officials from receiving compensation “in any case, proceeding, application, or other matter which is before the agency.”
The agreement says Lewis will not face prosecution, and it doesn’t require Lewis to resign from the board.
Frank Fuda, a Trumbull County commissioner, said he and commissioners Paul Heltzel and Dan Polivka will discuss the matter next week to determine “whether some action has to be taken.” Polivka said he has no comment until he sees the settlement agreement. The commissioners appointed Lewis to the port authority board.
A message for Lewis seeking a comment Friday morning was not returned.
Lewis is vice president of Edward J. Lewis Inc. of Warren and Youngstown. The commissioners reappointed him to his most recent four-year term on the port authority board in 2012, a year after the ethics commission publicly acknowledged in a letter that it was investigating Lewis.
The settlement agreement says several mitigating factors caused the commission to attempt to resolve the matter through settlement rather than prosecution.
One is that at least two members of the port authority board, Masternick and Scott Lynn, knew that Lewis was the broker on the Millwood deal before the Feb. 18, 2009, meeting, during which the board voted to allow the airport director at the time, Steve Bowser, to complete the Millwood lease.
Masternick and Atty. Dan Keating, a legal adviser to the board, told the commission that Lewis informed the board members at the meeting that he was the broker.
Hanni said he didn’t know Lewis was the broker, and it wasn’t possible to determine whether two other board members knew Lewis was the broker, the settlement agreement said. Lewis also cooperated with the investigation, the ethics panel said.
After being informed of the settlement agreement, Hanni said he was glad that Lewis admits he broke the law but “flabbergasted” that the agreement doesn’t contain any other punishment than a public reprimand and that it took four years to be resolved.
“Am I satisfied?” he said. “I have to be. It’s something finally.”
Keating referred questions Friday to Atty. Charles Richards, hired by the board to handle records requests from the ethics commission, who did not return a call. The attorney handling the matter for Lewis, Tom Nader, did not return calls seeking comment. Heltzel also did not return a call.