Former Deputy Ohio Treasurer Amer Ahmad pleaded guilty on Monday in U.S. District Court to conspiracy and bribery charges for his role setting up his high school classmate to make $3.2 million in trading commissions off the state in exchange for $523,000 in kickbacks.
As part of his plea agreement, Ahmad agreed to make restitution of up to $3.2 million. The exact amount will depend on how much is recovered from his co-conspirators.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson accepted Ahmad’s plea and said sentencing would be in 10 to 12 weeks. Ahmad faces up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines, plus three years of probation after he is released.
Ahmad admitted that he authored a new investment strategy for the state, put his high school friend Doug Hampton of Hampton Capital Management on the approved trader list and steered business to him. In exchange, Hampton funneled $523,000 in kickbacks to Ahmad through Ahmad’s friend Noure Alo and Ahmad’s business associate Joseph Chiavaroli.
Chiavaroli and Hampton accepted plea deals in August and agreed to cooperate with investigators. Alo pleaded guilty Friday to aiding and abetting wire fraud. Those three have yet to be sentenced.
Ahmad offered no comment as he and his wife whisked down the courthouse steps and into an awaiting car in downtown Columbus.
When Watson asked how the FBI began investigating Ahmad, U.S.Department of Justice trial attorney Eric Gibson said media reports questioning the relationship between Ahmad and lobbyist Noure Alo piqued the government’s interest and led them to uncover the kickback scheme.
In May 2010, the Dayton Daily News broke the story about Ahmad and Alo’s personal ties and how Boston-based State Street Bank hired Alo, an immigration attorney with no lobbying experience, to lobby the treasurer’s office in advance of the bank landing a lucrative state contract. Alo’s wife served as Ahmad’s secretary in the treasurer’s office.
The State Street Bank contract was not part of the case prosecuted against Ahmad and Alo, but federal authorities said there is an ongoing investigation.
Ahmad was second-in-command in the Ohio treasurer’s office from May 2008 to January 2011 under Democrat Treasurers Richard Cordray and Kevin Boyce. After Boyce lost the statewide election to Republican Josh Mandel in 2010, Ahmad moved on to be controller for the city of Chicago in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. Ahmad quit his Chicago job in July just weeks before he was indicted.
Federal investigators say Ahmad, Alo and Chiavaroli conspired with Hampton of Hampton Capital Management in Canton. Ahmad, a Canton native, authored a confidential investment strategy in December 2009 that called for the treasurer’s office to make five to 10 trades a day, using seven core trading partners, including Hampton Capital Management. Hampton then made 360 trades, earning $3.2 million in commissions.
Hampton disguised $523,000 in kickback money as legal fees for Alo and a loan for Chiavaroli’s landscaping business, Green Landscapes and Lawn Care, which Ahmad co-owned.
As deputy treasurer, Ahmad managed Ohio’s $11 billion treasury portfolio and $9 billion in state debt obligations and served as custodian for more than $150 billion public pension fund assets. He worked as an investment banker and holds a bachelor’s in political science from Columbia University and a master’s in business administration from Harvard University.
Ahmad, 39, lives in Chicago with his wife and their three children. He is free on bond awaiting sentencing.
Chris Berry, spokesman for Treasurer Josh Mandel, issued the following statement: “On behalf of Ohio taxpayers, we thank the federal agents and prosecutors who ensured that justice was served. We also recognize the journalists who played an important role in helping to expose these crimes.”
Timeline of the Amer Ahmad case:
May 2008: Democrat Richard Cordray hires Ahmad as CFO in the state treasurer’s office.
January 2009: Democrat Kevin Boyce is sworn in as treasurer.
Feb 27, 2009: Boyce promotes Ahmad to deputy treasurer.
July 2009: Ahmad recommends that his high school classmate Doug Hampton be included on the state’s approved broker list.
Nov. 15, 2009: Amer Ahmad buys a 44 percent stake in Going Green Landscaping, which is owned by Joseph Chiavaroli.
Dec. 17, 2009: Hampton pays $123,622 to Noure Alo, an immigration attorney and Ahmad friend.
Dec. 24, 2009: Ahmad authors an investment strategy that calls for multiple daily trades and names seven core traders, including Hampton.
Jan. 4, 2010: Alo’s wife Walaa Waeda starts as secretary to Ahmad.
March 29, 2010: Alo’s client, State Street Bank, wins the custodial bank contract to oversee more than $20 billion invested around the world.
March 30, 2010: Hampton transfers $100,000 to Going Green Landscaping.
May 23, 2010: Dayton Daily News publishes story about the relationship between Ahmad and Alo and the banking contracts.
August 28, 2010: Hampton issues a $300,000 check to Going Green Landscaping.
November 2010: Incumbent Treasurer Kevin Boyce loses the election to Republican challenger Josh Mandel.
January 2011: The FBI subpoenas records from the treasurer’s office.
May 2011: Ahmad becomes comptroller for city of Chicago.
Dec. 2, 2011: FBI sends a second subpoena to the treasurer’s office, seeking investment trading documents.
July 2013: Ahmad resigns as comptroller for Chicago.
Aug. 19, 2013: Ahmad pleads not guilty to federal bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and other charges in U.S. District Court in Columbus. Hampton and Chiavaroli plead guilty and agree to assist investigators.
Dec. 20, 2013: Alo pleads guilty to aiding and abetting wire fraud.
Dec. 23, 2013: Ahmad pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bribery and money laundering and guilty to bribery.
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In May 2010, our Columbus bureau raised questions about personal ties between then deputy Ohio Treasurer Amer Ahmad and Noure Alo, an immigration attorney hired by Boston-based State Street Bank to act as its lobbyist to help land a lucrative state contract. Those stories led the FBI to begin investigating Ahmad, Alo and the treasurer’s office and the discovery of a separate illegal scheme which resulted in criminal convictions.