Contractor charged with bribing city of Cleveland official to get leg up on demolition work
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CLEVELAND, Ohio – A contractor was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday on charges that he bribed the former chief of the city of Cleveland’s demolition bureau to get a leg up on city work.
Eric Witherspoon, the head of Arick’s Environmental Services and Arick’s Services, is charged with two counts of bribery and seven counts of honest services wire fraud. Witherspoon, who does asbestos removal and demolition work, is accused of giving cash to Rufus Taylor, the now-retired head of the city’s demolition bureau, in exchange for confidential information and preferential treatment for city jobs.
Witherspoon, 55, of Warrensvillle Heights, gave thousands of dollars in bribes to Taylor over several years.
Taylor pleaded guilty Sept. 4 to extortion and bribery in a federally funded program. He admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes from two contractors and gave them preferential treatment for government-funded demolition and abatement projects.
Witherspoon was one of two contractors referenced but unnamed in Taylor’s charging documents. Federal prosecutors have not charged the second contractor. A message left for Witherspoon at one of his businesses was not immediately returned.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Tobin said the case remains under investigation. A grand jury subpoena issued July 26 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the IRS sought records pertaining to Joseph and Gwen Tucceri, as well as companies affiliated with the Lake County couple. The Tucceris have not been charged.
Prosecutors say Witherspoon and Taylor’s schemes involved them meeting at restaurants, job sites and parked cars in which Witherspoon would pay cash to the Cleveland official. In addition to providing information about bids and projects, Taylor gave Witherspoon help to ensure the jobs Witherspoon worked on would be inspected quickly, prosecutors say.
In November 2013, Witherspoon promised to pay Taylor $8,000 in exchange for getting Witherspoon on the bid list for a demolition job on Parkwood Drive. The city awarded Witherspoon the contract, worth $147,000. True to his word, Witherspoon gave Taylor $8,000, authorities claim. Taylor also told the contractor about an emergency demolition job between East 123rd Street and Coltman Road in October 2015. Witherspoon agreed to pay Taylor $12,000 in exchange for notifying him about the job, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Witherspoon did work at the location, and the city paid him $94,640. However, he was not awarded the full contract, and Witherspoon never paid Taylor the full $12,000. A federal judge is scheduled to sentence Taylor on Dec. 18. His agreement calls for a prison sentence of between 37 and 46 months. Witherspoon’s case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi in Akron.
By Eric Heisig, cleveland.com