cleveland chose not to prosecute inspector Richard Huberty over pay scam allegations although guilty of taking bribes etc.

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Mon, 05/04/2009 - 02:44.

City chose not to prosecute inspector Richard Huberty over pay scam allegations

Posted by jwagner [at] plaind [dot] com May 03, 2009 05:15AM

Courtesy of WYKC Channel 3Richard Huberty

The same Cleveland electrical inspector who pleaded guilty last month to taking bribes also pressured contractors to submit to after-hours inspections to boost his overtime pay, a city investigation has found.

At one job site last summer, Richard Huberty proposed a series of five or six evening inspections, each one requiring payment of an extra $100 fee, as a way for electrical contractor Paul Stolfo to atone for not obtaining a required permit, city officials reported.

"It sounded like he was going to keep extorting money from me for the rest of my life," Stolfo told The Plain Dealer in a recent interview.

Stolfo filed a complaint, triggering an investigation that found five other contractors who, during the first eight months of last year, paid $100 fees for late inspections that they had not requested.

Huberty's bosses concluded that the 16-year veteran of the city's Building and Housing Department improperly collected overtime for six late inspections that the city found to be unwarranted. The overtime amounted to at least $400.

Law Director Robert Triozzi found evidence to support bringing felony charges against Huberty but opted not to prosecute or recommend firing the inspector. Instead, Huberty was suspended for 10 days.

 

Huberty could not be reached for comment on this story.

In an interview last week, Triozzi said he ultimately decided the evidence was not strong enough to obtain a conviction. He also noted that a 10-day suspension is the most severe discipline -- short of termination -- allowed by city labor rules.

Stolfo likened the suspension to a slap on the wrist. He also said that the city officials sent to investigate his complaint repeatedly referred to Huberty as a good inspector and tried to get him to say that Huberty was trying to be helpful.

"I smelled a coverup coming," Stolfo said.

Inspector a figure in county corruption case

Huberty, 51, resigned his $49,441-a-year position in March before pleading guilty to bribery and extortion charges as part of a sweeping federal investigation into public corruption in Cuyahoga County. Sentencing is set for July in U.S. District Court.

The conviction is one of the first to come out of the probe, which became public last July with raids on the offices and homes of County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, Auditor Frank Russo and county employee J. Kevin Kelley as well as several contractors.

Documents show that investigators are focusing, among other things, on whether officials steered public contracts in exchange for gifts, meals and work at their homes. But the case against Huberty involved cash.

The inspector admitted taking money in 2007 to approve permits at the Stonebridge development on the West Bank of the Flats and to tip off the owner of the Mirage on the Water nightclub about future inspections.

All of that was unknown to his city bosses last July, when they received the complaint from Stolfo about an abusive Huberty pressuring the Akron contractor to agree to the costly after-hours inspections.

In an interview with the newspaper, Stolfo recalled being angrily confronted by Huberty at a West 65th Street job site. Stolfo said the inspector profanely rebuked him for lacking a necessary electrical permit and ordered him to rip out newly installed wiring.

Stolfo said he asked how he could "make things right." Huberty, he said, replied that he must pay the $100 after-hour fee and added: "And I'll be out five or six times."

Lawyer John Ricotta, who said he represents Huberty on the federal case but not the city matter, said the overtime issue is unrelated to the federal charges. He said his client would not comment on the city case.

Contractors deny seeking after-hours inspections

City rules allow for deadline-minded contractors to request inspections during evening hours -- generally after 4 p.m. -- of electrical or plumbing work. The inspectors get a minimum of two hours of overtime pay, and the city bills the contractors for the fees.

The five other contractors identified in the city investigation told The Plain Dealer or city officials that they did not request after-hours inspections and paid the fees only under pressure from Huberty. Here are their accounts:

• Louis Ross, owner of Atlas Electric of Cleveland, said Huberty approached his workers in February 2008, questioning why they did not request an inspection before burying conduit in concrete at the rebuilt Buhrer Elementary School. Huberty told one worker he needed to demonstrate how to snake a wire through a pipe -- for a $100 fee.

"He got a little bit huffy and let it be known that it was punishment," Ross recalled. "We paid the fine, because basically that's what it was."

• Robert Behers, owner of Behers Electric of Pittsburgh, said his workers were building a concrete pad for a cell phone tower's emergency generator on Walworth Avenue in January 2008.

"We dug a trench and called for an inspection in the morning," Behers said. Huberty arrived around 4 p.m. and announced he would need to charge the $100 after-hours fee or he couldn't do the inspection until the next day.

Behers said he agreed to pay because the weather was turning bad, a mixture of rain and sleet, and he was worried that water in the ditch would freeze overnight.

"If I had to wait, it would have cost me thousands of dollars," Behers said. "I wasn't happy."

• Michael Ohm, owner of Ohm Electric of Cleveland, said he had not requested an inspection for work at an old YMCA building on Franklin Avenue. Yet Huberty showed up after 4 p.m. on May 2 of last year, insisting on doing an overtime inspection.

• Workers from Arrow Wiring Contractors of Columbia Township and Globe Electric of Strongsville were wiring booth and carnival rides for last summer's Feast of the Assumption on Mayfield Road. Officials from both companies told city investigators that they were expecting Huberty on the morning of Aug. 15, but he arrived at 4 p.m. and did the inspections, charging evening fees to both companies.

When questioned by his bosses, records show, Huberty denied coercing the contractors into late inspections. He said he was trying to help them resolve problems of their own making.

Ron O'Leary, the city's deputy director of building and housing, disagreed in his report: "We find it unlikely that each of these contractors misinterpreted your offer and more likely that you did pressure them for the after-hours inspections."

O'Leary, a former municipal court judge, went on to warn Huberty about the seriousness of his offenses.

"Although there were no criminal charges filed against you, the law director advised us that there was evidence to support charges that you committed felony criminal actions."

Department Director Ed Rybka said the city's investigation found no evidence of other inspectors abusing the rules regarding after-hours inspections. Rybka described Huberty as an exception to an improved work ethic in the department.

Councilman Michael Polensek, a stern critic of the building department, said Huberty should have been fired.

"There was a clear pattern here of him trying to pull a fast one," Polensek said.

Plain Dealer reporter Gabriel Baird contributed to this story.

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COMMENTS (20)Post a comment
Posted by omgMissy on 05/03/09 at 8:10AM

A few years ago there was a housing inspector working on the west side who was taking bribes from property owners to look the other way with regard to code violations on their properties. When his bosses found out about his scheme, the guy was transferred to the east side .. more specifically the Slavic Village area. Now look what that area has become.

That low life scum inspector is still on the job and has trained at least one inspector that I'm aware of and that inspector is not very thorough in his job. I don't know if he's on the take also but his inspections leave much to be desired.

Rybka and the rest of them in housing know about the inspectors, who's doing a decent job and those who are just putting in time for a paycheck. Nobody cares; it's just easier to be quiet and not rock the boat. It's not worth the risk for any city employee in any capacity to speak out because that would bring criticism down on you from your bosses as well as co-workers. What a crying shame.

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Posted by bigbonk on 05/03/09 at 8:11AM

Cimperman's acquiescence
Triozzi 's sleaze

 

Posted by repub4sure on 05/03/09 at 8:18AM

And the local, state, and federal governments want the "normal" citizens to have trust in the leaders?!

If it were one of the peons doing such a crime we would definitely be paying the price and a 10 day suspension is nothing brother!

To be honest with all of the readers out there... any inspector can come to my home and tell me what I need to do or this, that or the other and they can have the property!

It's not meaning that much to put up with the bullying from the governmental butt-holes that think they have jurisdiction over one's freedom!

Only God is what I will listen to and no matter what they tell me! This is getting sickening!

Bunch of scum bags that hide behind their office walls and probably just be playing with the computer online activities hiding from their spouses!

Posted by nassau73 on 05/03/09 at 8:31AM

Greedy sleaze! This guy has a nice salary but that's not enough.

Posted by nassau73 on 05/03/09 at 8:34AM

repub4sure

.....Bunch of scum bags that hide behind their office walls and probably just be playing with the computer online activities hiding from their spouses!.....

BINGO!!!

Posted by LiminalBeing on 05/03/09 at 8:36AM

There are 2 houses side by side at 6314 and 6400 Gertrude Avenue that have been open, vacant and vandalized now for over 3 years. Siding is partially stripped, windows broken, roofs falling in on the garage in addition to 4 foot holes in the back wall of the garage, cracked foundations, weeds, garbage and so much more, Both properties have been called in to building and housing, the mayor's action center, and brancatelli's council office numerous times over the last 3 years and NOTHING has been done. Those 2 houses should have been torn down long ago. They were foreclosed on, now bank owned: why the hell are they still standing?

Must have been "inspected" by inspectors Tropiano and/or Catacutan, 2 of cleveland's finest building inspectors, and the properties found to be in good condition. Those 2 are about as worthless as teats on a bull.

Posted by PorkyPegasus on 05/03/09 at 8:56AM

That guy looks like he's proud of being a crook. Somebody should wipe that crap eating grin off his face.

Posted by teaparty1776 on 05/03/09 at 9:38AM

For which council person/mayor was he the bag man? Could it be one of the recently departed or both of them?

Posted by goldleAder on 05/03/09 at 9:56AM

Not enough evidence to prosecute means: He has dirt on a lot of people and says he's not going to jail alone.

Posted by hailesillass on 05/03/09 at 10:41AM

If this were someone of African ancestrym

He would be in Prison.

Posted by nassau73 on 05/03/09 at 11:56AM

 

This is the judicial double standard that sends black folks to prison for crimes that whites aren't even charged with.

How in the world is this grease ball not indicted? Peeps are indicted for a whole lot less.

Shame on you City Prosecutors!

(Hey, check his computer hard drive, you might find something there.)

Posted by itsacurve on 05/03/09 at 12:41PM

You people better vote out the scum like Jimmy and Frankie-Cleveland and Cuyahoga county is a cess pool.

Posted by bobharo on 05/03/09 at 1:42PM

Nice mustache, Jabroni.

People in NEO are so lame

Posted by tremonster on 05/03/09 at 2:16PM

He threaten to eat them if they were to prosecute...

Posted by Polensicky on 05/03/09 at 2:48PM

hailesillass, take you racist crap and shove it.

I personally know of black inspectors who go around citing white homeowners for numerous minor violations while the house directly next door, owned by blacks, with every imaginable violation and is an eyesore and a nuisance, is left completely alone by the black inspector.

Posted by Polensicky on 05/03/09 at 2:50PM

hailesillass, take you racist crap and shove it.

I personally know of black inspectors who go around citing white homeowners for numerous minor violations while the house directly next door, owned by blacks, with every imaginable violation and is an eyesore and a nuisance, is left completely alone by the black inspector.

Posted by nassau73 on 05/03/09 at 2:55PM

POLENSICKY,

You write that you "know of black inspectors who go around citing white homeowners for numerous minor violations while the house directly next door, owned by blacks, with every imaginable violation and is an eyesore and a nuisance, is left completely alone by the black inspector."

And you did/do nothing about it? You don't whistle-blow on this? What, don't tell me that you go by the "don't snitch" urban survival policy?

Shame on you!

Posted by rick777 on 05/03/09 at 4:11PM

These contractors amaze me a bit. While it is wrong what happened here, these contractors should realize there is a cost to doing business and no matter what, this sort of thing will go on to some degree. It seems the degree is quite minor, $100 here and there. But had this person turned the money into the city and not kept it, there would be no story and the contractors would still have to pay it. Face it why would you bury conduit in cement when you know it needs to be inspected? And then complain that you got caught? How about starting an electrical job without a permit and then ask what would it take to "make things right"? Sounds like that person was looking for an easy way out.

Posted by bassakwards on 05/03/09 at 6:36PM

And u people don't think that we need to elect a new Mayor? U must be straight impaired if you don't.

Posted by Polensicky on 05/03/09 at 11:27PM

Nassau73 -- You are really quite naive in your statments.

It is really a bad situation we have here with all the criminal activity going on with the Cleveland inspectors. They definately need some oversight that they are not getting, but I don't think the solution to improving our neighborhoods is for all the white homeowners who are being harrassed to start ratting out their black neighbors on account of some racist inspectors.

These inspectors are destroying our neighborhoods. As soon as someone buys a house and starts trying to fix it up, inspectors jump on their backs with all kinds of fees and regulations that nobody else is following anyway. Even the Water department doesn't replace sidewalks they destroy in compliance with the city standards homeowners are confronted with.

The only ones who want to fix up houses in Cleveland anymore are the local Development corporations like the one who aquired Councilman Polensek a house for his mother in law for pennies on the dollar. These "development corporations" are not subjected to the same abusive inspections since the inspectors, in a lot of cases, operate right out of the Development Corporations' offices and their activities are directed by the Development Corporation's head.

The development corporations, whose role could ideally have been to help neighborhood residents fix up their houses, have instead been using their inspectors to levy backbreaking fines and jail sentences on residents, forcing them out, and then buying up the homes for pennies on the dollar and flipping them. Even Councilman Polensek is able to get into the action by forcing one of his close neighbors out and using the development corporation to buy the house and hold it so he could turn it over to his mother in law.

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Cost of doing business in Cleveland

This is why legitimate investors run away from Cleveland and stay away.  The pay to play scam is killing us at every level.  Without a media that is proactive rather than reactive, the game is "catch me, if you can," and the scam artists, and their kept-politicians, know it.

A related example: the straw buyer scam used to devalue properties on the east side has happened on the west side, too.  The straw buyers over here have lighter skin color than the buyers on the east side.  No one is interested in the story.  Why is that?

Until the game stops, we are digging a hole.  A few greedy people manage to stay out of the hole for a while, but their time will come, too.  This has to stop.  We need to use local tax dollars to maintain local communities.  Instead, the monies are abused to line the pockets of the rich.   I can't expect the Obama administration to undo this framework in place for so long, and not just in Cleveland.  To a degree, it is business-as-usual throughout America.  How did we allow ourselves to get here?

We need leadership that defines a community in terms of the goods and services we need to lead a quality life.  We need to provide roles for those citizens in our community.  Those roles shouldn't be so hard to fill. They are universal--we always need teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, attorneys, bakers, merchants, and most of all--farmers, to make a local economy.  The definition of scale and the balance of that scale is what we need in NEO and everywhere. 

Personally, I can only see our way out of this mess by electing self-made men and women to elected office.  Money and power can not be the driving incentive to serve in public office.  The motivation has to be a will to define and turn around a community for the better.

Sunday overtime

Blogger Anonymizes your name

Wanted to post at save our land but Blogger removes your name.   Half the power of a comment comes from your cred.  which you don't have if you're anonymous.

So I am back here on Realneo...

What was being sucked?

Sewer via man hole in the center of the street or storm catch basins along curb?

If the sewer was backing up, then sucking on Sunday is a good thing.

If the storm catch basins were being vacuumed on Sunday, then the taxpayers are being sucked.

To which branch of government did the trucks belong?

Dept of Water Pollution Control

  See above post.  Working on Sunday to clear the sewers.  In light of the dry weather we have enjoyed...I don't see the emergency reason to do it on a Sunday...