News: Reeces' Pieces

Lawsuit claims conspiracy in business-political ties

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Jymi Bolden

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and her father Steve

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and her father have illegally conspired to intimidate political opponents and to use her office for his family business' gain, according to a lawsuit filed April 30 in federal court.

The complaint comes at a time when Reece and her father, Steve Reece Sr., find themselves criticized by some who say the pair have compromised the interests of African Americans in Cincinnati.

The lawsuit — filed by Angela Leisure and Kenneth Lawson in U.S. District Court — accuses Alicia Reece of using a third party to try to persuade Leisure to settle her lawsuit against the city over the police shooting death of her son, Timothy Thomas. The suit says Reece and her father dispatched James Washington for sub rosa negotiations, offering Leisure a substantial settlement if she fired Lawson, her attorney.

"Near the one year anniversary of Timothy Thomas' death, defendant Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and defendant Steve Reece approached Angela Leisure, through her agent, defendant James Washington, not to offer condolences during this emotional time, but instead to prey upon plaintiff's emotional and financial condition," the complaint says. "The defendants devised a quid pro quo conspiratorial scheme."

Lawson also filed a motion seeking the court's permission to conduct discovery for "probable violations" of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute.

"Defendant Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and her father, defendant Steve Reece Sr., have established a pattern and practice of using the political influence of the vice mayor, thus pressuring individuals, small businesses and CEOs of major corporations in the private sector into doing business with defendant Reeces' personal enterprise in exchange for promises of city money," the complaint states.

In a written statement issued a few hours after the lawsuit was filed, Alicia Reece said Lawson is the one trying to intimidate people.

"Neither Ken Lawson nor anyone else is going to use a frivolous lawsuit to successfully bully me into not doing my job or changing my position on critical issues," the statement says.

Reece says Washington approached her about settling Leisure's lawsuit and that she passed the information to City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

"We quickly determined that the city of Cincinnati could not and would not talk to Ms. Leisure or anyone else about a settlement without the involvement of her legal counsel," Reece's statement says.

Steve Reece and Washington did not return calls seeking comment. But in interviews last week, Steve Reece complained his family has been treated unfairly by critics raising questions about possible conflicts of interest.

Comparing his family to white political dynasties in Cincinnati, Reece says attacks on him and his daughter are racially motivated.

"I definitely think the family thing is racial and jealousy," Steve Reece says. "It's never put in the context of the total relationships going on. The comparison relationship is always isolated. I'm never put in the category of Tafts, Lukens, DeWines, Peppers. Somehow it's a bad thing when a black father steps up."

Alicia Reece is director of creative services for the Reece and Reece Business Group, according to her father. The company and its subsidiaries have never had a contract with the city of Cincinnati, he says.

Pressuring critics
The lawsuit filed April 30 accuses the Reeces of sending Washington, president of Washington Limousine Service, to meet with Leisure. The alleged goal was to arrange a settlement of Leisure's lawsuit, an accomplishment that would politically benefit Alicia Reece.

The Reeces also allegedly sought to retaliate against Lawson by getting Leisure to fire him.

"In desperation to rebuild a tarnished public image and punish Kenneth L. Lawson for his public criticism, defendants hatched this illegal scheme, targeting the emotionally and financially vulnerable Ms. Leisure," the complaint says.

The Reeces also sought, by their conduct, to silence critics, the plaintiffs say.

"This would be done by any means necessary, including bribery, tortious interference with a contractual relationship, retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and interference with the rights to petition for redress of grievance and access of the courts," the complaint says.

The alleged use of a third party to send messages to Leisure is similar to statements Alicia Reece made April 17, according to CityBeat Editor John Fox. During a visit complaining about the newspaper's coverage of her, Reece told Fox to make CityBeat writer Kathy Y. Wilson stop criticizing her. Otherwise, Reece told Fox, she would send Cincinnati firefighters to convince Wilson.

Reece told Fox she had engaged the help of firefighters to successfully get at least one other person to stop publicly criticizing her.

Advocates of a civil rights boycott of Cincinnati have accused Reece of opposing the boycott because it's financially harmful to her family business, including Integrity Hall, a banquet and meeting facility owned by Reece and Reece Enterprises.

Steve Reece says the accusation is ridiculous.

"She's fighting for the economy because her Daddy's going to be the beneficiary?" he says. "I'm the only businessman who's going to benefit?"

Part of the criticism of Alicia Reece stems from a story in August 2001 in The Cincinnati Enquirer about an agreement between Integrity Hall and the Westin Hotel downtown. The Enquirer reported that Alicia Reece "sparked" the agreement between her father and Wayne Bodington, the hotel's general manager.

But Steve Reece says his daughter had nothing to do with the business deal.

"Her help would have been if she said, 'Daddy, I want to bring you and Mr. Bodington together,' " Steve Reece says. "That never happened. I don't need Alicia. Integrity Hall stands on its own merits."

Bodington says he briefly met Alicia Reece at a television studio and heard from Steve Reece a few days later.

"I was taping a segment about the hotel's involvement with the Withrow High School Academy of Travel and Tourism," Bodington says. "She was in the studio and introduced herself. I think that's probably where 'sparked the relationship' came from. Perhaps she told her father she met me. A few days later he called me and said he'd like to develop a relationship with downtown hotels."

Steve Reece says Integrity Hall has never had a contract with the city. At a forum last month at Integrity Hall, Mayor Charlie Luken and Alicia Reece called for an end to the boycott. Steve Reece says the company did not charge the city for using the facility. ©

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