Jim Petro

Just days ahead of the filing deadline for the Ohio governor’s election, federal officials are launching an investigation into a “pay to profit” scandal that could knock a leading Republican candidate out of the race and spark a broader probe threatening the state’s entire GOP establishment.

Two Akron-area lawyers claim they lost state contracts because they did not contribute to Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro’s campaign.

As WorldNetDaily reported, in a complicated “pay to profit” scheme, the Ohio Republican Party has been charged with handing out state contracts on a “no-bid basis” to individuals and firms who made campaign contributions.

Petro is the only remaining Republican challenger in the May 2 primary to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who drew national attention during the 2004 presidential election in his role as vote supervisor in the crucial swing state.

But Cleveland attorney Kenneth Seminatore, who brought the scandal to light in 2004 when two of his clients filed civil racketeering charges, told WND yesterday he believes it’s only a matter of time before Petro drops out of the race.

“It has been quite apparent since that time that the pattern is deeper and broader than my clients ever dreamed,” Seminatore said.

He hopes the federal probe will not be limited to Petro.

Ken Blackwell (Photo: pbs.org)

“It is quite clear that with the exception of Ken Blackwell, the entire Republican establishment in this state has engaged in a pay for profit scam that has only grown worse over the course of the last 15 years,” the attorney said.

Noting he’s a registered Democrat, Seminatore told WND last month, “If I could have nailed Blackwell, I would have. Believe me, I looked hard, but Blackwell is clean.”

If Blackwell emerges as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Ohio, some national pundits believe he will be in a position to carry a reform banner for the GOP, not just in Ohio, but nationally.

Two weeks ago, Blackwell’s website published an independent Ohio Republican Party survey showing him with a commanding 10 point lead over Petro, 40 to 30 percent, with 29 percent undecided, despite Petro’s $1.6 million television commercial blitz in December and January.

FBI officials will talk today to Jack Morrison of the Akron law firm Amer Cunningham about his discussion with Petro at a 2002 fund-raiser, the Dayton Daily News reported.

According to Morrison, Petro approached him and his law partner as they were leaving the event and said: “I have to be loyal to those who were loyal to me from the beginning and you weren’t. You supported Joe Deters and as a consequence, you’re going to lose all your attorney general work.”

Deters planned to challenge Petro for the attorney general’s office in 2002.

Petro, who strongly denies the allegations, says he doesn’t remember meeting Morrison at the fund-raiser. His campaign argues Morrison is closely tied to County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who has long disliked Petro.

The Daily News reported Akron-area attorney Ray Weber of Renner Kenner said federal authorities also have contacted him.

Weber said his firm lost state contracts to handle patent work for the University of Akron and Kent State University. The Akron-based firm that received the contracts has little patent expertise but has made large campaign contributions to Petro, Weber claimed.

Petro contends the two firms were passed by because his reputation for independence would have been damaged by the firms’ ties to GOP Chairman Arshinkoff.

As WND reported last month, Columbus attorney Kevin O’Brien signed an affidavit alleging a fund-raiser for Petro’s gubernatorial campaign solicited campaign contributions in exchange for appointment as a special counsel.

In Ohio, special counsel appointments are lucrative and coveted positions. Special counsel appointed to recover state debts, including past taxes, have earned millions.

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