Resolute Square

Ghosts of “Mistakes” Past

David Pepper breaks down some the ghosts coming back to haunt the scandal-ridded in Ohio, including the sitting governor.
Published:February 21, 2024

*Read all of David's writing and watch his fantastic videos at Pepperspectives!

By David Pepper

An Underdog Victory

It starts w this sheet. Look closely.

So this is a score sheet of a bid process to do lucrative collections work for DeWine’s Attorney General office. From 2012.
If you look down the list, you’ll see a company called CELCO. It scored a 95, which was the precise cut-off it needed to hit to win the bid:

Once it won with its 95, CELCO would go on to make millions in revenue collecting debt on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office.

So why do I focus you on this scoresheet, where CELCO won this bid?

Because I want you to understand what a true underdog story CELCO’s victory was.

You see, that long list of bidders is made up of companies that had done this work for years. Including many who were already doing this work at the time.

With a giant exception. This company CELCO was actually new.

I’m talking brand, spanking new.

Incredibly, CELCO only filed its articles of incorporation to EXIST on 4/11/12, two days before the bid was announced.
(Incredible timing, really.)

At just over three weeks old, CELCO then submitted its bid to compete for the lucrative work. Still, this hungry new company beat out all that competition below it to secure the work.

I told you: it’s truly a great underdog victory, isn’t it?

How’d they pull this off?

They got a 95, that’s how!

So, at only three weeks old, what was in their bid to earn that stellar number?

I once wondered that myself, so I took a look. Here’s the cover page of their bid:

I’ll give you a quick overview of their submission:

1) CELCO’s proposal acknowledges that it “is a new subsidiary being formed to serve large Delinquent Debt clients”

2) When asked about current collection accounts, the proposal’s response is that “CELCO is a new entity and currently not handling any collection accounts”. None.

3) When asked for financials, the proposal’s response is that “CELCO has no historic financial statements since it was just formed to provide debt collection services to state government and large corporate clients.”

4) in response to a question asking for a description of personnel and their experience and training in collections work, only one of the five executives (the lowest in seniority) listed has any substantial experience in collections.

5) in response to a later question about the “firm’s experience,” the proposal only lists the following: “For the past year we provided consulting support for one of the third party vendors providing Debt Collection services to the Attorney General.”
Consulting support…OK.

It’s safe to say that the other firms against which this newbie was competing boasted far more experience and a far longer track record than this.

(It also became clear later that CELCO did not even have the required licenses to do collections work in the states where such licenses were required. No one even bothered to look into that until after CELCO won the bid).

So, now let’s look at how this paltry experience translated into that winning score of 95.

Here’s CELCO’s actual scoresheet:

There’s a lot that stands out when you read the fine print, but overall, and when you compare it to other bids, the numbers on the right don’t really correspond to even the written assessment by the scorer.

For example, other bidders received a “9” for Response Overviews that were characterized as “excellent.” CELCO got a “9” for an overview that was deemed “general.”

Under Management Summary, they got a 19 out of 20, even though their overall “number of years in the collection industry was limited” and they lacked a “management flow chart:”


And CELCO got its highest score for the category Contractor Profile (measuring “AGO/Gov experience, number of years of operation(!), public debt collection experience”). CELCO had existed three weeks, had almost none of these specific qualifications (“only 6 staff members and no accounts at this time”) yet still scored an almost perfect score—a 24 out of 25:


Other bidders had decades of this type of experience and scored the same or less.

But…NOW take a second look at this category.

A close look at the score. The number actually handwritten on the sheet.

You’ll see the number first written down was a 23.

But then someone wrote over that 23 in thicker writing, converting it to a 24:


Now look at the bottom of CELCO’s sheet. You’ll see the change from 23 to 24 nudged the total score of CELCO from 94 to 95.


And of course, reaching that precise number of 95 is what got CELCO in the door, getting the work and leapfrogging others. The 94s and below lost the bid. As did other 95s.


Like I said, a true underdog story. And, it turns out, a gripping comeback as well—an original score later altered to secure this weeks-old company with zero active accounts a 24/25 for their “experience” to secure the 95 that led to millions in revenues.


But at the risk of ruining this feel-good story for you, and using my best Paul Harvey voice, let me tell you….…The Rest of the Story….

The guy who started CELCO was named Pete Spitalieri. Remember this name.

Spitalieri gave $40,000 to Mike DeWine’s Attorney General campaign, the Summit County Republican Party, and the Ohio Republican Party State Candidates Fund over the course of the 2010 campaign.

After landing this collections bid, Spitalieri gave $1,150 to the Pat DeWine for Judge campaign (August 15, 2012), and $10,000 to the Summit County Republican Party (October 10, 2012).

On January 30, 2013, the Summit County Republican Party contributed $115,000 to Mike Dewine.

Despite no experience, in February 2013, CELCO was next awarded the very technical and complex area of student loan and university claim collections. Going after student debtors.

CELCO would go on to earn millions because once it won this initial bid, it was in the door. Future bids would tout the experience it had gained from that first year.

Now…I know what some will say. “This all may be really ugly, David, but surely DeWine himself wasn’t involved in this. He was the new Attorney General. So much on his plate. This is way below what he would be dealing with.”

(Which is what he did say.)

Just like he pretends not to know things that he does know, as his former chief of staff wrote in these notes that came out in the First Energy indictments last week:

Well, I’ve got one little receipt here for those of you thinking this.

In only his second month as Attorney General (which was also just his second month back in public office after losing his Senate race in 2006), with all he must have been confronting, Mike DeWine took the time to write his chief of staff an email.

Here it is:


  1. Let me translate:“Please call Debbie Walsh in alex arishnikoff office.” — Arshinkoff, a lobbyist, was the chair of the Summit County Republican Party, which gave all that money above.
  2. “He wants to bring in Pete Spitalieri for a meeting.” The same guy who later founded CELCO.
  3. “…the issue is collections. So figure out who needs to be in meeting.”

And the rest, as they say, is history: including, as the Dayton Daily News found, “[I]n his first 16 months in office, DeWine met four times with Arshinkoff and Spitalieri in his office, lunched with the two men at Spitalieri’s property in Hudson and held a conference call with them, according to DeWine’s work calendar.”

(And of course, as now, “DeWine said he doesn’t recall meeting that many times with Spitalieri, who he described as a friend and highly successful businessman.”)

That’s the Tip….Meet the Iceberg

This is just one bid. And DeWine got himself directly involved in only his second month in the new office. And an old friend and supporter, backed by another old friend and supporter/lobbyist, ultimately made millions because his score was changed from 94 to 95.

But as the Dayton Daily News found back then, this was just one of many examples of DeWine’s involvement in the collections vendor selection process, as vendors just like CELCO showered his campaign and various party accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars: “A review of his calendar shows he has met routinely with debt collection attorneys, vendors and their lobbyists, many of them with close ties to DeWine’s political operation.”

I described how the broader process works in Laboratories of Autocracy: “The way the money flows is straightforward: private collectors pocket a percentage of the money they collect from debtors, then pass along a cut of their cut to the attorney general’s campaign fund on a regular basis, who thanks them by keeping them on as collectors, year after year. Practically speaking, this means that some of the largest political donors in Ohio are (unwittingly) student, medical and tax debtors, as millions of their dollars make their way to politicians or to party accounts that then give to those politicians.”

That email above, and those meetings, and that ultimate winning bid by CELCO, was DeWine personally dealing an old friend and donor into that ocean of debt collection riches, from which his campaign account too received enormous financial benefit.

And that’s just one type of state work, or largesse. His second month in state office.

Now project this example out to all the things Governors and Attorneys General can impact. Energy policy. Education policy.
Sports betting policy. Pension funds. So much more. Areas of huge interest. Where enormous sums of money can be made by private interests. And decisions by those in government can impact who makes that money, and how much.

And know that as Governor, DeWine has a weekly phone call with the lobbyists that also raise him all the millions he’s raised over time. (Thank you Common Cause for uncovering this.)

Then note that all the political contributions from CELCO and those debt collectors described above went to public accounts—candidates and parties that must file public reports, so we can actually track them. These days, most of that kind of money flows into dark money accounts, or the Republican Governors Association, or other superPACs, where it is nearly impossible to trace.

Yes—it’s a true nightmare.

* * *

“We all make mistakes.”

These are not mistakes. This is Ohio’s current model of governance.

And someone who likes to pretend not to know has a documented history of knowing a whole lot. And being directly involved from the get go.

Just ask CELCO.