Questions continue for Cincinnati City Council member around financial relationship with wealthy benefactor

Critics say Jeff Pastor’s ties to a millionaire former packaging manufacturer raise ethical concerns. But Pastor says he's done nothing wrong and that his opponents are just playing politics.

click to enlarge Councilman Jeff Pastor - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Councilman Jeff Pastor

A first-term Cincinnati City Council member’s close relationship with the millionaire former owner of a major packaging manufacturer has raised ethical concerns.

But it’s still unclear what, exactly, the tight financial ties between former DuroBag owner Charles Shor and Councilman Jeff Pastor represent.

Two months before the November 2017 election, Shor hired then-Cincinnati City Council candidate Pastor to head his nonprofit foundation, after which Pastor delivered checks from the foundation to several black churches. The checks were given to the organizations around the time of the November election, according to church leaders who talked to CityBeat and other news outlets. Pastor also received a half-million-dollar mortgage from Shor, first revealed by an anonymous Twitter account and detailed in documents CityBeat obtained from the Hamilton County Recorder’s Office.

Pastor, a Republican former educator, was elected in November last year, grabbing the ninth and final council seat on a razor-thin 223 vote margin over Democrat Michelle Dillingham.

In September 2017, two months prior to the election, Shor, the former owner of the nation’s largest paper bag manufacturer, hired Pastor to be the executive director of his nonprofit, the Charles L. Shor Foundation for Epilepsy Research. Shor has suffered from epilepsy since the age of 25, In 2014, he sold the company, which was founded by his father, to South Carolina-based Hilex Poly Co. LLC after a long, contentious fight over the company between Shor and his sisters. 

Campaign finance filings show that Pastor loaned his own campaign $54,000 days after he was hired. Pastor has not disclosed his salary at the foundation, nor his other income.

There were more connections between Shor and Pastor. As part of his job with the foundation, Pastor appeared at several African-American churches and presented checks for $25,000 in front of the congregation, a rival campaign told CityBeat before the election.

That could not be confirmed during the election, but recently, leadership at one of those churches, New Prospect Baptist Church, acknowledged to CityBeat that Pastor did visit his church to deliver a check from the Shor Foundation.

In addition, Laure Quinlivan, who ran against Pastor in the November election, says she witnessed him deliver a check to the Greater New Hope Baptist Church in Walnut Hills; leadership at other churches, including Corinthian Baptist Church, have acknowledged that they also received checks, according to the Business Courier.

It’s unclear how many churches the Shor Foundation gave checks to, or how many of those checks Pastor presented. The nonprofit’s 990 tax forms for 2017 are due May 15 and should shed more light on the former question.

Pastor acknowledges the contributions and the fact that he presented them to churches but did not say how many were made.

"I have presented several checks to further the outreach missions of African-American and white churches in my capacity as executive director of the foundation,” he said in an email responding to questions about the donations. “The churches cannot as a matter of law get involved in politics in the pulpit. It is shameful these allegations are being lobbed at pillars of the African-American spiritual community."

Quinlivan says Pastor’s appearance at New Hope took place before the election. Corinthian Rev. KZ Smith says he does not recall when the donation was delivered to his church. New Prospect leadership initially said that Pastor presented their donation prior to the election, but later reversed that statement and said it came afterward.

New Prospect’s Rev. Damon Lynch III says he did not permit Pastor or any other candidate to campaign at the church but did let him appear in front of the congregation and speak about the Shor Foundation’s work.

“Charlie got mad at me,” Lynch says. “I didn’t allow one politician to campaign in our church, and that includes Jeff.”

The church and the nonprofit had a previous relationship. The Shor Foundation gave New Prospect $181,500 the year prior, according to the nonprofit’s 990 tax forms.

That kind of giving is relatively new for the foundation, which until recently donated almost exclusively to epilepsy organizations and a couple local foundations. But it gave heavily to a number of schools, religious institutions and nonprofits in 2016. The foundation cumulatively gave hundreds of thousands of dollars that year to Cincinnati’s Sycamore Community Schools, Blessed Sacrament School in Fort Mitchell, DePaul Cristo Rey High School, Miami University, United Way and others.

It was Shor’s close ties with New Prospect that landed Pastor the job at the foundation, Pastor and Lynch say.

“I actually introduced Jeff to Charlie and recommended him for the foundation job,” Lynch says. “He’s been a benefactor to our church for a couple years now. At that point, Charlie had given us close to $250,000. My congregation was aware of Charlie Shor and the Shor Foundation. His largess is huge. He’s given millions to University Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati State. We introduced him to Jeff and obviously, they hit it off. They both share the same beliefs.”

The relationship has been a beneficial one for Pastor. In addition to the new gig, he also received two mortgages totaling $550,000 from Shor for a house in North Avondale. One, for $500,000, was used to purchase the house. It is unclear what the other $50,000  mortgage was used for.

That information was first revealed by an anonymous Twitter account under the name @MrSeasongood in a thread about Pastor’s ties with Shor. CityBeat obtained those mortgage documents from the Hamilton County Recorder’s Office. The Cincinnati Enquirer also reported on the mortgage. The Twitter handle refers to Murray Seasongood, who led Cincinnati’s 1920s-era charter reforms following the corrupt Boss Cox regime. Seasongood also served as the first mayor under the city’s newly-reformed charter.

Pastor says that he could not afford to buy the house, which multiple prospective buyers were competing for, without the help from Shor, and that he will pay back the loan.

The loan has raised eyebrows from Pastor’s critics. But as of yet, it’s unclear exactly what — if any — influence Shor has gained from his relationship with Pastor. CityBeat has requested correspondence between Shor and city officials over the last several years and will update this story when those records are provided. The city manager’s office has yet to acknowledge repeated requests made last week.

Shor does have pending business with the city in the form of an ongoing lawsuit with the Metropolitan Sewer District, which is owned by Hamilton County but controlled by City of Cincinnati administration. Shor, who first filed a complaint in 2016, says a sewage overflow caused $200,000 worth of damage to his house, and he wants MSD to reimburse him for damages plus the value of several family heirlooms. Overall, Shor initially asked for $500,000. However, that suit may be settled soon to the tune of $45,000.

In an email to an assistant to then-Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, Shor mentioned that Pastor advised him to reach out to the city manager. That’s a questionable ethical move, Pastor’s critics say. Some have called for an investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission into the ties between Pastor and Shor. CityBeat has reached out to the commission for comment.

It’s not the first time Pastor has drawn criticism during his tenure on city council. Shortly after the election, he caused controversy when he hired Steve Megerle as his chief of staff. Ten years prior, Megerle, an attorney, resigned from his position as a Covington City Commissioner after he was convicted of campaign finance violations. He plead guilty in 2009 to misdemeanor charges for helping anonymously fund pamphlets against another city commission candidate with language his opponents said had homophobic undertones. His record was later expunged. Pastor has said Megerle has changed and deserves a second chance.

Critics, including former council opponents like Dillingham and Quinlivan, have continued to press for investigations into Pastor's ties to Shor. Pastor says the latest rounds of scrutiny into his relationship with Shor are just his opponents playing politics.

“As an African-American Republican who is achieving things as a rookie council member, I believe it opens me up for baseless attacks to hurt my integrity,” Pastor said. “I believe in transparency and have nothing to hide.  I don't see the media as laser focused on my more liberal colleagues and their shenanigans, which will come to light soon enough."