Lesson of Jones Plea: Use a Private Courier
The Honorable Cleveland Councilman Joe Jones (D-Ward 1) pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a federal felony charge of mail fraud. According to the Plain Dealer,
Jones pleaded guilty to mail fraud involving a $5,000 interest- free loan he got from Gray. Jones didn't mention the loan on his state-required financial disclosure statement, which he mailed to Columbus in 2003. The loan was repaid in full. Though prosecutors argued that the no-interest loan showed a pattern of how Gray cultivated people for possible future use, there was no allegation that Jones subsequently performed any illegal act to benefit Gray.
Filing a false financial disclosure statement is violation of § 102.02 (D) of the Ohio Revised Code. According to § 102.99, violation of § 102.02 (D) is a first-degree misdemeanor. All of this can be found on the Ohio Ethics Commission's website.
Theoretically, a first-degree misdemeanant in Ohio can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to 180 days, but that's rare. The most Councilman Jones probably would have faced would have been a fine and probation. He also would have been able to keep his Council seat.
Instead, Councilman Jones is now a convicted felon. In addition to months of home confinement and a possible fine, Councilman Jones is barred from holding elected office in Ohio for the rest of his life.
What made this state misdemeanor into a federal felony? Councilman Jones put a stamp on his false disclosure statement and sent it through the U.S. Postal Service. That made it mail fraud. So, the next time you need to send papers that you aren't sure are completely accurate, use a private courier. Perhaps Councilman Jones can get a job as a spokesman for Federal Express or UPS.