It has been 17 months since FBI agents arrived in unmarked cars to raid a well-known East Side landscaping company.
Since then FBI agents have poured over thousands of documents from Evans Landscaping, but no indictment has ever been filed from their probe into alleged minority contracting issues.
The FBI opened its investigation into well-known businessman Doug Evans and his companies in Newtown, Anderson and Mt. Carmel in the summer of 2015. Television cameras captured the raid as agents took away boxes of documents.
“This is not what people think it is, remotely. Doug Evans committed no crime,” said Ben Dusing, who is Evans’ attorney.
Dusing is a former federal prosecutor who successfully defended Kenwood Towne Place developer Matt Daniels against charges of fraud in 2013. A jury found Daniels not guilty.
“Lets talk about the elephant in the room here,” Dusing said. “When the government spends millions of dollars investigating something, if they don’t find something then somebody’s head is going to roll.”
The FBI has been quiet about the case. A spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
The only peek into their probe came in December 2015, when the FBI tried to seize two Mack trucks from Evans Landscaping alleging violations of money laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. A judge issued a stay on the case, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Meanwhile FBI agents have reviewed thousands of pages of documents in this case -- two separate times.
“First a ‘taint team’ had to review all of the documents to remove any attorney-client communications, and then another team of agents conducted a substantive review of those documents,” according to documents recently filed in a Hamilton County lawsuit between Evans and Ergon Site Construction, a minority-owned business.
The relationship between those two companies is at the heart of the federal probe.
Ergon’s owner, Korey Jordan, who is black, claims in his lawsuit that Evans profited from his minority business enterprise status and assumed its identity in order to get city and state contracts.
But Evans insists that he gave “arms-length support” to Ergon and loans so Jordan could have operational cash flow, according to federal court documents.
In 2013, the city of Cincinnati awarded several minority owned business contracts to Ergon. When the company could not complete all of the work, it subcontracted with Evans for demolition jobs, according to court documents filed by Evans.
That’s when their relationship went sour.
Evans claims that Jordan never paid him for the work, and filed a lawsuit in October 2014 for breach of contract.
Jordan countersued, claiming that Evans Landscaping “hijacked the company” and “exercised control” over it, interfering with his rights of ownership.
A few months later, in July 2015, the FBI raided Evans Landscaping.
“We continue to have constructive conversations with the government regarding an appropriate resolution and I’m encouraged by the government's willingness to listen,” Dusing said.
Evans built his empire from a modest high school landscaping business.
With just a shovel and a pickup truck, a young Evans sold mulch to local homes and businesses and spread it himself. Instead of going to college, he devoted himself to his business.
Today his companies employ more than 200 people.
Evans, 54, has been collecting property for more than 20 years and is Newtown’s biggest landowner. He controls more than 800 acres, including the purchase of Ivy Hills Country Club in 2014.
He owns industrial warehouses, farming land, parcels adjoining railroad lines and hilltop land overlooking the Little Miami River that was once owned by George Washington.
When Evans’ wife of 19 years sued him for divorce in January 2015, court filings revealed the size and scope of his wealth.
Those records show a 2013 income for Evans of $2.34 million, and bank accounts and investments worth more than $2 million. He also had an ownership stake in 19 companies and trusts and was the sole owner in all but two of them.
A judge finalized their divorce in July, and accepted their agreement on how to split their property.
His wife, Stephanie Evans, kept their Ivy Hills home, Revolution Fitness on Round Bottom Road, and 16 parcels of land mostly bordering a railroad line. As part of their agreement, Evans will buy back that property over 20 years from her at an unspecified price.
For his part, Evans will keep 47 pieces of property and land parcels, as well as full ownership stake in all of his companies.
That real estate portfolio was valued at roughly $18.8 million in 2015, according to auditor records from Hamilton and Clermont counties and listings for his property.
Meanwhile Evans has also been the target of environmental probes.
In early November Evans paid the last installment of the $300,000 in fines owed for pollution violations as part of a 2014 settlement made with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
As part of that settlement, he also agreed to a $100,000 tree-planting project that will serve as a natural windbreak for dust and emissions from his stonework, gravel and sand operations in Hamilton and Clermont counties.
The attorney general’s office also received a 2014 accusation against Evans and Evans Landscaping for violating solid and hazardous waste laws. Hamilton County Public Health referred alleged violations against Evans for solid waste, as well as construction and demolition debris, to their office.
That matter is ongoing, said Kate Hanson, spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.