CLEVELAND, OH – FBI special agent in charge of the Northern District of Ohio, Stephen Anthony, was quick to praise the agency’s “law enforcement partners” when he busted “controlled” terrorist Demetrius Pitts.
Not a word was said to Mayor Frank Jackson as the city of Cleveland’s chief law enforcement officer when FBI agents Anthony supervised learned his “law enforcement partner’s” employee, Rufus Taylor, was asking contractors to give him money for special consideration on demolition contracts.
Federal agents under Anthony’s supervision decided to withhold the information from Jackson. Instead of working for Jackson and obeying the city’s ordinances and state laws relative to the performance of his official duties, Taylor appears to have used the authority of his city job to ensnare more vendors who had signed up to do legitimate business with the mayor’s administration.
There’s the possibility that other employees in the city’s community development and building departments may have been involved in obstructing Jackson’s ability to deliver a “bribe-free” environment for vendors to do business.
When asked by EJBNEWS if he was made aware by Anthony and the FBI agents he supervised were influencing an employee over a department of the municipal government to engage in corrupt activities, Jackson said “no.”
EJBNEWS contacted U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Mike Tobin to ask if U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman would comment about a federal agency taking over the functions of a municipal government through an employee under the mayor’s supervision and was told “no.”
Tobin responded in an email that Taylor’s case file information and the evidence Herdman’s federal prosecutors used to secure his plea bargain conviction was not public at this point. The federal investigation that led to Taylor’s arrest, prosecution and conviction, Tobin responded, “is ongoing.”
Taylor’s attorney, Michael Peterson, told EJBNEWS the trial was ongoing and that his client was due to be sentenced in December 2018. Peterson said he could not comment or share the evidence used by Herdman’s prosecutors against Taylor without his permission and cited attorney-client privilege.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s news release identifies the federal agency’s perspective about the events leading to Taylor’s arrest, prosecution and conviction. But what’s left out of the details is the role FBI agents played behind-the-scenes.
Taylor and a person identified in the charges as Contractor 1 met in November 2013 to discuss a demolition job on Parkwood Drive. The two agreed that Contractor 1 would pay Taylor $8,000 in cash in return for Taylor putting Contractor 1 on the bid list.
Contractor 1 was awarded the bid. Contractor 1 gave Taylor approximately $3,000 in cash on Dec. 4, 2013. Contractor 1 paid Taylor the additional $5,000 by November 2015.
Taylor notified Contractor 1 about an emergency demolition job on East 123rd Street and Coltman Road around October 2015. Taylor asked Contractor 1 for $12,000 in exchange for notifying Contractor 1 about the job.
Contractor 1 was awarded abatement work for the premises but never paid Taylor the $12,000.
Taylor provided bid numbers to Contractor 2 for a pending demolition job on Cedar Avenue around Aug. 20, 2015. Contractor 2 paid Taylor approximately $5,000 in cash in exchange for this information around Oct. 26, 2015.
On May 7, 2016, Taylor provided Contractor 2 the names of companies bidding on a demolition job on East 130th Street. On May 10, 2016 – the last day of the bid – Taylor called Contractor 2 and informed Contractor 2 of the then-current lowest bid on the project.
Contractor 2 gave Taylor approximately $500 in cash on May 25, 2016. Taylor contacted Contractor 2 on July 21, 2016 and said he needed some “stacks.” Contractor 2 gave Taylor approximately $300.
There is no information in the federal charges against Taylor or in the news release Herdman shared that reveals how FBI agents learned Jackson’s employee was taking bribes in exchange for him performing demolition duties connected to his job.
The extent of the FBI’s knowledge of how corruptly Taylor performed official duties, or how long the city’s demolition department was influenced by his interactions with federal agents is implied by the dates of the described incidents of bribery.
The first bribery incident in the news release cited above was on December 4, 2013. The last incident is dated July 21, 2016. It’s conceivable that Jackson’s employees were interacting with FBI agents without his knowledge for approximately 32 months. There’s no way for Jackson to immediately know what “sham” acts were committed against owners of demolished properties by city employees to further their bribery scheme.
According to Herdman’s news release, Taylor was “responsible for assigning “board-up” of vacant properties to contractors, emergency demolition jobs, and conducting inspections, which had to take place before a contractor could be paid, among other duties.”
Taylor in the capacity of Jackson’s chief demolition official was supervised by Ronald O’Leary. O’Leary is now the city’s housing court judge.
O’Leary supervised the building and housing department and approved the properties, contractors and payments for emergency demolitions that would have been connected to Taylor’s performance of duties. O’Leary previously told EJBNEWS he was cooperating with federal agents. That news wasn’t shared with his boss … Jackson. EJBNEWS also learned that the late Judge Raymond Pianka died of a heart attack less than a month after he received a visit from federal agents.
What should concern Jackson and city council is how the FBI and allegedly “cooperating” employees like Taylor and O’Leary identified properties to be demolished in connection with the scheme.
Frances Caldwell owns land where a house once sat at 2057 E. 79th Street. Next door to her property is land owned by Velimir Lucic, a local restaurant owner. A home sat there, too, until it was torched by an arsonist.
O’Leary’s department approved a demolition contract with Lucic not only to demolish his own 79th Street home for $10,000; but gave him another $10,000 to demolish Caldwell’s on October 22, 2015 after she’d pulled permits from the housing department to repair it. Several homes along E. 79th Street were torched by arsonists and are now in the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s possession. Lucic’s invoices weren’t submitted until April 13, 2016.
O’Leary’s department appears to have orchestrated a “sham” process to demolish Caldwell’s property. Workers they supervised through Taylor claimed they didn’t know the address to contact Caldwell so they demolished the property another department under O’Leary’s control had approved permits to repair. Caldwell’s contact address was on the housing department’s permits.
After paying Lucic to demolish his own property and Caldwell’s, demolition records show Caldwell’s property mysteriously ended up in the city’s land re-utilization program and she wants it back.
Caldwell believes she’s a victim of the FBI’s allegedly-cooperating city workers.
Community Development director Michael Cosgrove wasn’t Jackson’s community development director for a full 11 months before FBI, IRS and HUD inspector general agents raided his department on December 6, 2017 and the mayor announced his resignation on December 8, 2017. Cosgrove would have approved O’Leary’s use of federal funds for demolition.
Taylor submitted his intent to retire on December 18, 2017, which was 12 days after Cosgrove’s department was raided. His official retirement date was January 5, 2018. His sentencing date is December 4, 2018.