Friday, May 10, 2002

Settlement offer to Leisure was recorded

Reece denies seeking deal

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In secretly recorded conversations with Angela Leisure, Cincinnati limousine company owner James Washington told her she could get an “under-the-table” settlement of her wrongful death lawsuit against the city — if she fired attorney Ken Lawson.

        And while Mr. Washington was not shy about dropping the names of high-ranking city officials, including Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, Ms. Reece's lawyers say the conversations do not prove that she was involved in a conspiracy to violate Mrs. Leisure's civil rights.

        Mrs. Leisure's son, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, was shot and killed by a police officer last year in Over-the-Rhine, prompting the worst race riots in Cincinnati since 1968. She is suing the city for wrongful death and seeks $10 million.

        The tapes, first broadcast Wednesday on WCPO (Channel 9), consist of conversations between Mrs. Leisure and Mr. Washington on April 23, 24 and 26.

        Her lawyers say the tapes are evidence that Mr. Washington — in concert with the vice mayor and her father, Bond Hill businessman Steven Reece Sr. — devised a scheme to get Mrs. Leisure to accept an out-of-court settlement for a fraction of what her son's life was worth.

        “It's crystal clear that Mr. Washington is not the person who hatched this plot,” said Scott Greenwood, one of four plaintiffs' lawyers in a second suit that Mr. Lawson and Mrs. Leisure have now filed against the vice mayor. “Of all the parties in this morass, Mr. Washington would have the least reason to make this up.”

Alicia Reece
Alicia Reece
        Ms. Reece has said she will have no further comment on the lawsuit. She forwarded all questions to her lawyer.

        Her lawyer and Mr. Washington's lawyer have the same defense: Mr. Washington was acting alone and there was no conspiracy by the vice mayor to interfere with Mrs. Leisure's lawsuit.

        And they say the tapes don't prove otherwise.

        “The tapes themselves tell only a small portion of the story. I believe the tapes were created by Mrs. Leisure, wearing a wire, and that she directed the conversation, or manipulated it, to make it appear that things had happened when they had not,” said R. Scott Croswell III., who represents Mr. Washington.

        Indeed, Mrs. Leisure repeatedly asks Mr. Washington in the tapes to set up a meeting with Ms. Reece so she could get a “verbal guarantee” that she could take to her husband. That meeting never materialized.

        Nowhere on the tapes does Mrs. Leisure speak to either Reece. In the most direct reference from Mr. Washington implicating them in the plan, Mr. Washington said Mr. Reece was his “contact.”

        Then he said, “Steve Reece is Alicia Reece.”

        That was April 26.

        The initial meeting between Mrs. Leisure and Mr. Washington happened April 23 and was not recorded, her lawyers said. Mrs. Leisure started recording the conversations later that day once Mr. Washington told her of the settlement-for-firing plan.

        Many of the recordings are barely audible, and some include commentary by Mrs. Leisure and phone calls in which only her voice can be heard.

        But in one conversation on April 24, at Mr. Washington's Walnut Hills office, the limo company owner spoke explicitly about what Mrs. Leisure should do.

        “So Vice Mayor Reece can, she can guarantee that once I get rid of Ken ... ” Mrs. Leisure asked.

        “You can come in and cut you a deal,” Mr. Washington said.

        “I can come in and cut a deal? Because my husband ain't going to go for me up and firing Ken without no guarantee, but, man I need to have this done pretty quick, because I can lose my house,” Mrs. Leisure replied.

        “That's what I mean ...,” Mr. Washington said. “Ken wants to hold you out, to make more money for himself, the way I look at it. He'll spend five years to make you $5 million, and then he'll take $2.5 million or $3 million.”

        Mr. Washington and Mrs. Leisure talked about specific amounts of money (“$2.4 million minimum,” Mr. Washington said) and when she could expect the receive it (“90 days, with bonus money in 10 days,” he said).

        At one point, Mrs. Leisure asked whether Mayor Charlie Luken would ever go for such a deal. “I didn't know Alicia Reece had that much power,” she said.

        Mr. Washington explained she would need approval from City Manager Valerie Lemmie and Solicitor Fay Dupuis — and told Mrs. Leisure that he was sitting in the vice mayor's office when she called one of them (he wasn't clear which one).

        He gave specific advice about how to write a certified letter to Mr. Lawson firing him, and told her to send copies to Ms. Reece and Ms. Lemmie.

        “And then they'll know he's not the man, and they'll talk to you,” Mr. Washington said.

        Mr. Washington even told Mrs. Leisure how to invest the settlement money in annuities so she could avoid taxes.

        “His position to her was that she had an unrealistic view of the value of the case,” said his lawyer, Mr. Croswell. “I'm not saying he's right, that he knows what he's talking about, or that he even had any business talking to her.” But he was speaking to her as a “private citizen entitled to his opinion.”

        That's the same stance Ms. Reece's lawyer has maintained. Ross A. Wright said Mr. Washington was acting on his own when he talked to Mrs. Leisure, so whatever he said has no bearing on Ms. Reece.

        Ms. Reece's only involvement in the matter was to pass along to Ms. Lemmie that she had heard that Mrs. Leisure was interested in settling her lawsuit, the vice mayor has said.

        Ms. Lemmie told her that the city couldn't negotiate with Mrs. Leisure directly as long as she was represented by a lawyer.

        “I relayed that back to Mr. Washington. That was the end of my involvement in the matter,” she said.


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