The Dave DeVillers Show
When a U.S. attorney calls a press conference, reporters generally don’t expect much. The whole thing is mostly a rote exercise, with a buttoned-up, stiff lawyer standing behind a podium, repeating what’s already been spelled out in court documents and replying with “no comment” to questions seeking elaboration.
If you tuned into Dave DeVillers’ blockbuster media event on Tuesday afternoon, you did see some of that. But you also got a taste of the unique style and swagger of the new U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio as he detailed the arrests of Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four associates on federal racketeering charges.
DeVillers was droll, confident, blunt and passionate, revealing hints of the charm and bravado that have characterized his long career in Central Ohio law enforcement. After all, here’s a guy who earned the nickname “Devil Man” during his decades-long battle against violent Columbus street gangs and responded to this magazine’s What Columbus Needs survey in 2017 by suggesting (facetiously, we think) the creation of a catapult in front of the Statehouse that would fire fruit into the Scioto River every hour. “How badass is that?” he said back then. “I would never leave Downtown.”
Even though no watermelons were smashed on Tuesday, DeVillers did deliver some choice quotes. Here are a few highlights.
“Everyone in this room knows who Company A is.”
DeVillers gets points for acknowledging reality, as many of the events described in the complaint revealed on Tuesday played out in public in recent years, including the bailout of Akron-based FirstEnergy, the company that is the center of the alleged Householder conspiracy. (Federal officials aren’t naming the company because no one from FirstEnergy has been charged.) But the key to this quote—as well as every other time DeVillers mentioned “Company A” during the press conference—was the impish smile on his face.
“The largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the state of Ohio.”
“I can’t stress enough how busy this office is going to be.”
“I literally mean millions of pages.”
Reporters love superlatives, anything to make a story stand out, and DeVillers delivered with these three quotes—the first one putting the size of the alleged scheme in context, the second referring to the ongoing investigation and the third referencing the number of documents reviewed by investigators.
“It is not, and cannot, financially benefit a shareholder. In this case, it did. Political activity cannot be its primary activity. In this case, it was. And it cannot intervene politically in a political campaign on behalf or against a candidate. And in this case, it did.”
This comment from DeVillers on the dark-money nonprofit involved in the alleged conspiracy had a nice oratorical rhythm that would have fit in one of Winston Churchill’s speeches. (Chris Hoffman, the special agent in charge of the Cincinnati FBI field office, referred to the great orator’s famous “end of the beginning” quote later in the press conference). Or perhaps DeVillers has picked up a writerly trick or two from his wife.
“You can make your own judgment call.”
“They’re not charged—at least at this point.”
A good performer should tease the audience a bit, leaving them wanting more, and that’s what DeVillers did with these responses to questions asking about inferences made in the complaint.
“You asked me to comment on the strength of the case in a different way.”
Not exactly a knee-slapper in a different context, but this quote drew laughter from audience when DeVillers refused to bite on a bit of gamesmanship from a reporter trying to get him to break prosecutorial protocol.
“We have a massive overdose epidemic where we’ve got people dying of fentanyl, people stacking up like cordwood at our coroner’s office. We’ve got a violent crime rate skyrocketing. We’ve got two Franklin County sheriff’s deputies shot this morning in Columbus. We got cases with real victims, and we have to take our resources away from those real victim cases and investigate and prosecute some politicians who just won’t do their damn job.”
DeVillers unleashed his passionate side with this response to a reporter’s question asking him for his personal reaction to the case. If Aaron Sorkin was watching, he probably swooned.