COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal grand jury has charged two former Columbus vice officers with conspiring to violate others’ civil rights and conspiring to commit wire fraud.
Steven G. Rosser, 43, of Delaware, and Whitney R. Lancaster, 57, of Columbus, were each arrested without incident this morning and appeared in federal court this afternoon. The indictment was returned on March 26 and unsealed at a 12:15pm initial appearance today.
Rosser was employed with the Columbus Division of Police for 19 years and assigned as a detective in CPD’s vice unit from April 2013 until October 2018.
Lancaster was employed with the Columbus Division of Police for 31 years. He was assigned as a detective in the vice unit from February 2016 until November 2018.
“The indictment alleges that these two former law enforcement officers abused their badges and deprived individuals of their Constitutional rights,” said U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers. “We will root out any alleged bad actors acting under color of law and are grateful to the vast majority of officers who do the honorable work of protecting us and the Constitution.”
According to the indictment, in March 2015, Rosser was involved in a physical fight with an individual at Nick’s Cabaret, a gentleman’s club on East Dublin Granville Road. Rosser allegedly represented that he was acting in the course and scope of his employment as a police officer during the fight and in the days that followed.
The indictment alleges that Rosser conspired with others to deprive the other participant in that fight of his civil rights by having him seized and searched without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Based, in part, on a report that Rosser wrote regarding the fight, officers arrested that individual in April 2015, and he was detained at the Franklin County jail for approximately five days before the charges against him were ultimately dismissed.
The indictment also alleges that in April 2018, Rosser, Lancaster, and others conspired to deprive one of the owners of the Dollhouse, a gentleman’s club on Karl Court, of his civil rights by seizing and searching him and his vehicle without probable cause, again in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Fort Rapids Indoor Waterpark Resort
Finally, the indictment alleges that both defendants conspired to commit wire fraud by routinely reporting false and fraudulent special duty hours.
Specifically, in January 2018, the Fort Rapids hotel, restaurant and indoor water-park complex on Corporate Drive in Columbus, suffered a fire-sprinkler break that led to extensive flooding. As a result, the Columbus Division of Fire ordered a 24-hour per day “fire watch” by qualified personnel to monitor the site for further damage and safety issues.
It is alleged that Rosser and Lancaster routinely reported to the Fort Rapids ownership group that they were working special duty during dates and times that they also reported they were on duty working their regular shifts as CPD officers. The two officers allegedly double-billed Fort Rapids and the Columbus Division of Police on 29 days between January and May 2018.
“The FBI and the Southern Ohio Public Corruption Task Force are committed to rooting out public corruption and working to ensure that those who abuse their law enforcement privileges are held accountable,” stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman. “We will continue to work with our partners to protect the citizens of this community and uphold their Constitutional rights.”
“The Columbus Division of Police continues to advocate for police accountability and strongly supports today's arrests on corruption charges against these former officers by the FBI and the Public Corruption Task Force,” said Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan. “I commend the dedication and effectiveness of the partnerships leading to today's arrests.”
“A cop’s authority is derived from citizens who trust them to keep the peace,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “When one betrays that trust, we need to hold them accountable to defend the integrity of the good men and women who keep us safe.”
“Ohio's law enforcement units are the finest in the nation and any actions that diminish their standing in our communities must be pursued and prosecuted,” Auditor of State Keith Faber said. “I want to commend the work of all involved in this investigation and pledge our continued support as this case moves forward.”
Conspiracy to violate a person’s civil rights is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Chris Hoffman, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division; Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan; Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien; Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost; Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Superintendent Joseph Morbitzer; and Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber announced the charges.
Assistant United States Attorneys Kevin W. Kelley, Noah R. Litton and Jessica H. Kim are representing the United States in this case. This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Southern Ohio Public Corruption Task Force, which includes special agents and officers from the FBI, Ohio Attorney General’s BCI, the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office and the Columbus Division of Police.
An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.