More building inspectors charged in federal investigation

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Wed, 05/27/2009 - 17:53.

More building inspectors charged in federal investigation

Posted by pkrouse [at] plaind [dot] com May 27, 2009 11:56AM

Gus Chan/Plain DealerThe FBI announced charges against two more Cleveland building inspectors today.

Updated: 1:35 p.m. CLEVELAND — Two more Cleveland building inspectors were charged with extortion today.

James McCullough and Juan Alejandro are accused of taking money from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for posting violation notices on homes, thereby lowering their value, and then removing the notices so they could be sold at a higher price.

The inspectors have been suspended without pay from their jobs.

The agent posed as a real estate investor from New York. McCullough took $1,530 in cash and Alejandro took $800, according to the charges.
 

Mayor Frank G. Jackson, U.S. Attorney William J. Edwards and FBI Special Agent in Charge C. Frank Figliuzzi provided an update on the FBI investigation of the Cleveland Department of Building and Housing this afternoon at City Hall.

They said federal agents have concluded their investigation of building and housing inspectors and will forward additional information to local authorities for possible state charges or administrative action.

Jackson said he had instructed his staff to prepare guidelines for proper conduct for employees.

Federal prosecutors have already charged four other Cleveland building inspectors with crimes.

Richard Huberty pleaded guilty in April to 10 counts of extortion and bribery and is awaiting sentencing.

Earlier this month, Bobby Cuevas, Lawrence Skule and Richard Kocuba were charged with extortion. They have yet to enter a plea.

Cuevas has cooperated extensively with the government, according to his lawyer Vincent Gonzalez. Cuevas expects to receive one year of probation after which his charges would be dropped.

The investigation of the Cleveland Building and Housing Department goes back at least three years, according to court documents. Prosectors said Cuevas solicited $4,300 in bribes from an undercover agent between March and August of 2006 for work done at La Copa Bar and Grille.

Skule, who was chief plumbing inspector, has been accused of extorting $750 from an undercover agent. He, too, is accused of putting violation notices on a house, lowering its value, and then removing them so the investor could sell the house at a higher price, investigators said.

Kocuba, an electrical inspector, took $500 from a representative of Wing Hin Construction to process permits more quickly so Sweethearts Ice Cream could open sooner, according to charges.

Huberty's crimes included extorting cash from an undercover agent and a representative of La Copa, as well as from the owner of Mirage on the Water nightclub. Neither La Copa or Mirage are still open.

Huberty also took a bribe to put violation notices on a house, as well as taking bribes from K&D Group constuction manager Henry Picozzi related to permits for the Stonebridge development in the Flats.

Picozzi pleaded guilty to bribing Huberty and a second building inspector. He admitted giving them cash, as well providing for entertainment and dinner at a strip club.

The probe into the Cleveland Building and Housing Department is part of a broader investigation into possible corruption in Cuyahoga County that extends as high up as County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and County Auditor Frank Russo.

It's believed that a number of individuals are cooperating with the government.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has given no indication when additional charges will be filed. It's probe went public last July when it conducted a series of raids around the county that included the homes and officers of Dimora and Russo.

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