Lawyer for Ohio lawmaker accused of misleading investors says he won't change not guilty plea

Markets Associated Press

A state lawmaker accused of misleading investors about a company's financial status and using their money for personal gain is not changing his plea, his attorney said.

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State Rep. Pete Beck has pleaded not guilty to more than 60 charges including felony theft and securities fraud. A hearing is scheduled Monday for any possible change of plea or to set a new trial date.

"I can tell you there will be no plea," Beck's attorney, Ralph Kohnen said, when contacted about the hearing.

Kohnen has said previously that the charges are false allegations and that Beck "steadfastly maintains his innocence."

The Republican legislator's trial was scheduled to start Monday. It was delayed to allow both sides more time to review the large amount of material in the case, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is leading the prosecution. Dan Tierney, a spokesman for that office, said they cannot comment on whether any plea deal has been offered or on any other issues involving pretrial strategy.

Beck was indicted last year on 16 counts. A second indictment this February charged him with 53 new counts, including one alleging that he engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity by repeatedly lying to securities regulators. If convicted of that count alone, he would face a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison.

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Beck served as chief financial officer of the now-defunct Christopher Technologies. The 61-year-old accountant from the Cincinnati suburb of Mason has been accused of being part of an enterprise that misled investors, laundered money and improperly diverted investors' money. He also has been accused of passing some of the money to his campaign committee.

The legislator resigned as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which helps review and set tax policy, but has rejected calls for his resignation. He lost his bid to retain the House seat he has held since 2009 when he was defeated in the Republican primary in May.

Beck later opted for a bench trial, which means a judge will determine his guilt or innocence rather than a jury.

Michael Benza, a criminal law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says that whether to go with a bench trial or a jury trial is a tactical decision.

In cases involving charges against public officials, the defense might choose a bench trial to avoid any reactions by jurors against those officials, Benza said.

"A concern may be that a jury might be thinking about its animosity toward a political party or to politicians in general that might interfere with their ability to fairly consider a case," he said.

Bench trials are more common in cases involving white-collar crimes, said Joshua Dressler, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"Sometimes there are a lot of complexities in the evidence, and sometimes the defense may think it would be better to have a law-trained judge rather than a jury," Dressler said.