Three Cleveland building inspectors charged with extortion

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Sat, 05/16/2009 - 02:04.

Three Cleveland building inspectors charged with extortion

Posted by pkrouse [at] plaind [dot] com May 15, 2009 10:13AM

Tracy Boulian/Plain Dealer fileThe West Side bar, La Copa (which closed in the fall), is at the center of a bribery investigation.

CLEVELAND — Three Cleveland building inspectors were charged with extortion today as part of the ever-widening federal investigation into corruption in Cuyahoga County.

Bobby Cuevas, Lawrence Skule and Richard Kocuba were charged using a criminal information, rather than indictment, which is used almost exclusively when defendants are cooperating with investigators.

Cuevas, 48, solicited and took $4,300 in bribes from an undercover agent posing as an investor in the bar La Copa between March and May 2006, prosecutors said.

Cuevas knew the work at La Copa was being done by contractors who were not registered with the city, as required under Cleveland laws, but agreed to find registered companies to obtain proper permits and claim they did the work at the bar, prosecutors said.

The undercover agent gave Cuevas $2,600, which was supposed to cover the cost of the permits plus money for the contractors pulling them, prosecutors said.

He also took $200 to let the undercover agent use cheaper studs in a wall, plus $1,500 for the favors he did for the undercover agent at La Copa, prosecutors said.

Cuevas resigned from his $52,000-a-year job last week. He went to work for the city in 1990.

La Copa, a bar on Clark Avenue that was championed by Councilman Joe Santiago, closed last year after numerous citations and complaints from residents.

Skule, 63, took hundreds of dollars in cash as chief plumbing inspector for the city, prosecutors said. Skule took a bribe from a home buyer from New York to add plumbing violations to a house, lowering the price, then removing those violations after getting cash, prosecutors said.

Kocuba, 64, took $500 as an electrical inspector for the city. Kocuba took a bribe from representatives of Wing Hin Construction to speed up the permitting process so Sweethearts Ice Cream could open earlier, prosecutors said.

Two other men -- a building inspector and a construction manager -- have already pleaded guilty to crimes related to inspections.

Former city building inspector Richard Huberty pleaded guilty last month to six counts of extortion and four counts of bribery. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Huberty's crimes included taking bribes from K&D Group construction manager Henry Picozzi to approve permits for work performed on the Stonebridge development in the Flats.

Picozzi admitted bribing Huberty with cash and entertainment and dinner at a strip club. Picozzi is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

The cases all stem from the investigation of how private businesses obtain lucrative public contracts. Last year federal agents raided the homes

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