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FBI involvement in internet café raises questions in Toledo council investigation

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 11:03 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - A confusing report from the FBI is leading to many new questions about the government’s federal bribery case against four suspended Toledo city council members. The issue is an internet cafe permit that the FBI says it was in “control of.”

This is coming from documents filed by the attorney for suspended councilman Gary Johnson. It lays out the FBI’s involvement in something they normally don’t mess with.

In 2019, a business owner applied for a special use permit for an internet café in the 300 block of West Central near Cherry Street in Toledo. Two years later it’s not there, and people that are there tell 13abc the internet cafe never came here. It was a project we’ve now come to learn was under the control of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“I’m still struggling to get my head around what that means. It’s a city council decision. The FBI has broad authority, but they don’t have that authority. So I’m not sure what was meant. We’ll have to get to the bottom of that,” said Rick Kerger, Johnson’s lawyer.

Four members of the Toledo City Council have been accused of accepting bribes while in office,...
Four members of the Toledo City Council have been accused of accepting bribes while in office, according to court documents obtained by 13abc on Tuesday. At least three of those council members have been placed into federal custody. 13abc crews were on the scene as council members Larry Sykes and Yvonne Harper were placed into custody. Federal documents also implicate council members Gary Johnson and Tyrone Riley. (WTVG)

Johnson is under federal indictment for bribery and extortion. He’s charged, in part, for allegedly taking a bribe to approve the special use permit for that internet café, which brings us to the FBI.

“As I thought about it, I thought holy goodness this is very bizarre,” said Kerger. Johnson’s attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss charges due to conduct by FBI agents.

An FBI report documents a conversation between the agent and an official with Mercy Health, which was a group poised to oppose the internet café.

The FBI told the Mercy official: “The FBI is in control of whether or not that internet café will be established at that location.”

That Mercy official’s response was: “Assured that the FBI will not allow the internet café to establish there.”

“It’s like you’re pulling on a string on a suit. It’s just a string when you start, but when you get done, you may have unraveled the whole suit,” said Kerger.

The Mercy official signed an agreement not to speak about that interview, but now Johnson’s lawyers would like him to and find out what really happened to this permit and perhaps get to the bottom of the FBI’s involvement.

13abc did speak briefly with the person who applied for the special use permit to get clarification. He said he cannot speak about the city council case.

13abc also posed questions to the FBI about what was meant when it was said that the FBI was in control of whether or not the café would be established but we were told they would not comment.

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