Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough partner Robert Crowe has agreed to pay a little less than $95,000 to resolve allegations that he played a role in a political corruption scheme aimed at helping State Street Bank and Trust Co. secure public pension contracts in Ohio.
Defended by Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s Stuart Dornette, Crowe reached a settlement to resolve claims by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to documents filed in Ohio federal court on Tuesday. The SEC alleged that in 2010, Crowe served as a “conduit” for improper campaign donations to then-Ohio state treasurer Kevin Boyce.
Under his settlement with the SEC, Crowe agreed to pay civil penalties of $75,000, disgorgement of $16,000, and $3,840.01 in interest, for a total of $94,840.01. Crowe didn’t admit or deny any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
One of Crowe’s defense lawyers at Taft Stettinius, Stuart Dornette, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Neither did the SEC or a spokeswoman for Nelson Mullins.
The SEC brought the case in January 2016 against Crowe, an experienced political fundraiser in Boston and Washington, D.C., who previously served as co-chairman of finance for the Democratic National Committee. According to the SEC, Crowe allegedly contributed to a kickback conspiracy involving the former head of State Street’s public funds group, Vincent DeBaggis, and former deputy Ohio treasurer Amer Ahmad.
The agency alleged that Crowe became entangled in a pay-to-play scheme through DeBaggis of State Street, a company that had been a longtime client of Crowe’s until it ended its relationship with the lawyer in 2011. DeBaggis was accused of facilitating improper donations from State Street to an Ohio state treasurer election campaign. The donations had been demanded by then-deputy treasurer Ahmad, who in 2014 received a 15-year prison sentence for his role.
DeBaggis allegedly saw the donations as a way of positioning State Street for public pension contracts in Ohio, according to the SEC’s case. Crowe’s alleged involvement came under pressure from DeBaggis and included filtering at least $16,000 in campaign donations through Crowe’s personal bank account, the SEC said.
State Street and DeBaggis, who no longer works at the bank, both settled with the SEC.
Crowe resisted settlement at first and contested the allegations. In March 2016, his lawyers at Taft Stettinius sought to have the SEC’s case dismissed. His defense team maintained that Crowe knew nothing about Ahmad’s scheme to use his political position for personal gain, and argued that the SEC was conflating state election law with federal securities laws. But in October, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley denied the motion to dismiss.
Crowe joined Nelson Mullins in 2009 from the now-defunct WolfBlock. As ALM previously reported, the firm said in a 2009 press release that Crowe would join as a leader of Nelson Mullins’ public strategies group and that he would co-manage the firm’s Boston office. A version of that release currently posted on the firm’s website, however, no longer references Crowe’s leadership positions, nor does his online biography. Crowe is identified as a partner in the government relations group.
Scott Flaherty covers the business of law with a special focus on plaintiffs firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sflaherty18.