The former co-campaign manager for Joseph K. Blystone’s gubernatorial campaign, who filed a complaint in October against that campaign, told The Star News Network she told two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Blystone mishandled cash contributions to his campaign, while they told her their probe into Blystone goes beyond his run for governor.
Sarah Chambers said she met with the FBI special agents Julie Becker and Blane Wetzel November 18 in the Columbus field office at or around 1 p.m. “They don’t conduct interviews over the phone; they want to meet in person.”
The whistleblower said the FBI agents were very prepared for her interview. They each had copies of her complaint with many of the pages highlighted, along with printouts of articles from The Ohio Star.
In the complaint she filed October 28 with the Ohio Elections Commission, Chambers alleged that Blystone, his wife, and campaign treasurer M. Jane Blystone and the campaign committee Friends of Joe Blystone, mishandled cash contributions and misreported other donations, including her own contribution to Blystone, which she said she took from her daughter’s college fund.
The agents asked her about specific parts of the 51-page complaint, including how Cincinnati-based chemist and mathematician Dr. Douglas G. Frank, a Blystone supporter, made a public show of putting a $100 bill in a donations bucket at a Blystone event – only to have Blystone return the $100 bill to him privately.
“They had screenshots from social media, people I don’t know, and they asked me if I knew them or if I could verify their statements,” she said.
Chambers said the agents did not need her to give them new information because they knew the material in the complaint inside-out.
“They would ask me about different things that happened, and I would say: ‘Oh yeah, that happened,'” she said. “I think they just needed a source to confirm things, and plus, I guess they just wanted to see who I was.”
In addition to questions about the Blystone campaign, however, Chambers said the agents gave her the impression that they are also looking into the candidate’s personal and business finances.
FBI tells Chambers she is not a target of its investigation
“In the back of my head, I’m thinking: ‘Whew, I really do not want to get involved with the FBI. I would’ve never reached out to the FBI; I’m nervous,'” said Chambers.
“I just called Julie back, and I just said: OK, this is Sarah Chambers. You called me,” and I waited for them, and she said: “Yeah, we want to talk to you.”
Becker told the Blystone whistleblower she and her partner, Wetzel, that they are looking into Blystone, she said.
Before the conversation got any further, Chambers’ attorney Scott A. Pullins jumped in to find out immediately what kind of jeopardy his client was in, she said.
“Scott asked: ‘Is Sarah or any of the complainants in any way a target in this investigation?’ and she said: ‘Oh no, no. Let me assure you, no. This has nothing to do with them being investigated, we are investigating Joe Blystone, and we’re trying to put things together for an investigation that we’ve been doing with Joe,’” she said.
Next, Pullins asked: “OK, well, is this a grand jury? Is she going to get a grand jury subpoena? Does she have to talk?” she said.
Becker replied: “As of right now, she doesn’t have to talk to us,” Chambers said.
With those assurances from the FBI, the former Blystone co-campaign manager said she took a night to think about it and then told her lawyer she was ready to cooperate with the two agents and answer their questions rather than wait for a subpoena.
Chambers: At first, I thought Becker’s voicemail was a hoax
Chambers said Becker left her a voicemail; she thought it was a prank.
“I thought it was a joke. I mean, I was like, “Oh, OK, so somebody’s trying to get me all worried about speaking out about what I saw on the campaign, so in all honesty, my first thought was: ‘Somebody’s just trying to make me nervous or playing games with me.’”
Curious about who was pranking her, Chambers conducted an internet search on the number, and once she was sure it could have really been from an FBI agent, she called her attorney Pullins.
“We took the name that we were given, Julie Becker, and sure enough, she was with the FBI,” she said. “It checked out, the Google search reverse number search came back, yep, this is the FBI, it is official, it’s the FBI.”
She said the next step was to decide whether to return the call.
“Obviously, it’s disturbing,” said Chambers.
“My next feeling was that of, I don’t know, just sinking, almost thinking: ‘My goodness, what have I gotten myself into?’” she said.
“I mean, that would’ve been a scenario that I played through in my mind, honestly. I knew there were a lot of things that were questionable going on with the campaign. I never thought that it would be to the point where the FBI would be involved,” she said.
Chambers: It was difficult to file my complaint because I believed in Blystone
“My intention in this entire thing is because I feel like Ohio and everywhere, we’re in trouble, and the only way that we’re going to bring forward the correct change is one, it’s not going to come in one election,” she said.
“It’s taken however many decades of corruption for us to get to where we’re at, and the only way we’re going to get the positive change that we really need Ohio is to hold these candidates to the test here,” she said.
Chambers said she was shocked that Blystone did not attend the December 16 preliminary hearing held by the Ohio Elections Commission to review her complaint.
She said she always thought Blystone would admit he made mistakes and put in the regular compliance regime maintained by other campaigns.
“He didn’t show up to defend his own name; he let his wife go in his place, which is – I don’t know too many men that I can have respect for, that when their woman is on the line that they aren’t their first defense,” she said.
“I mean, that spoke volumes to me.”
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