CHICAGO — Former Ohio Deputy Treasurer Amer Ahmad, who more recently served as Chicago's comptroller, entered a guilty plea Monday in federal court to charges he orchestrated a kickback scheme involving state investment business.
Facing a March trial, Ahmad struck a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on Sunday and pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering, according to court filings. He faces up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines and $3.2 million in restitution, according to filings.
Access to the plea agreement on the federal court's website was not immediately available.
A federal grand jury in August indicted Ahmad on allegations that he used his influence as deputy state treasurer to steer investment business to a firm with which he had close personal ties, which then funneled cash back to Ahmad and several alleged co-conspirators through "loans" and "fees."
"The purpose of the conspiracy" was for the defendants to "personally enrich themselves, their friends and associates, and their businesses, by using Ahmad's position in the TOS [Ohio Treasurer's Office] to secure lucrative state business….in exchange for payments," the indictment read.
The Ohio treasurer's office manages the state's cash and oversees multi-billion-dollar investment portfolios. Ahmad was named chief financial officer of the office in 2008 by then Treasurer Kevin Boyce and in 2009 he also became deputy treasurer. The alleged schemes occurred between early 2009 and early 2011.
Ahmad initially fought the charges. He was indicted along with Mohammed Noure Alo and Joseph M. Chiavaroli, according to a copy of the 20-page indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division. Ahmad was charged with eight criminal counts: conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, money laundering conspiracy, and false statements. The other defendants were indicted on various counts.
Ahmad left the treasurer's office in late 2010 after Boyce, a Democrat, lost his re-election bid to Republican Josh Mandel.
Ahmad then joined Cleveland-based KeyCorp as a senior vice president and head of its public sector group, which provides investment and banking services for governments, nonprofit and higher education clients.
In April 2011, newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped Ahmad to serve as city comptroller, one of three key city finance positions along with chief financial officer and budget director. Ahmad abruptly resigned last July.
One of Ahmad's co-defendants, Chiavaroli, was founder and part owner of Going Green Landscapes. The third defendant, Alo, operated a law firm that handled a partial ownership transfer of Going Green. Douglas E. Hampton owned Hampton Capital Financial Management and was a personal financial advisor to Ahmad.
Ahmad was accused of using his position to ensure that Hampton's investment firm would be included on the list of firms approved to conduct state investment business. Ahmad led the selection committee.
He then steered business to Hampton's investment firm to provide brokerage services. The firm collected $3.2 million in commissions. Hampton allegedly funneled cash back to Ahmad and the other defendants through legal fees and loans totaling more than $500,000 through their business interests.
Alo pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting wire fraud on Friday. Hampton and Chiavaroli pleaded guilty in August.
Emanuel's administration has attempted to put the Ahmad scandal behind it. The indictment raised questions over the city's vetting process and the prior business relationship between Ahmad and Chicago's chief financial officer, Lois Scott, who had worked on an Ohio Treasury bond sale in her prior role as financial advisor.
It also brought scrutiny to the city's bond underwriting selection process because of ties between Ahmad and his former boss, Boyce, who went on to become a public finance banker.
Emanuel ordered a forensic audit of Ahmad's tenure and hired Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Grant Thornton to conduct the review. The 47-page report concluded Ahmad did not engage in any wrongdoing that adversely impacted the city.
"We found no indication that Ahmad abused his influence as comptroller or defrauded the city or its taxpayers including by engaging in the type of wrongdoing Ahmad is alleged to have committed while he was employed by the state of Ohio," the report reads.