A Warrensville Heights contractor admitted he bribed a city of Cleveland official
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CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Warrensville Heights contractor admitted in court Monday that he bribed a city of Cleveland official to get favorable treatment for a demolition job.
Eric Witherspoon pleaded guilty to bribery concerning a federally funded program. He acknowledged that he gave a $3,000 bribe to the city’s former demolition bureau chief Rufus Taylor.
Witherspoon sobbed and gave quiet remarks Monday as U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Parker asked him a series of questions. His loved ones looked on from the viewing gallery.
The 55-year-old also appeared to hesitate more than once about admitting to the crime in court, and at one point stepped out of the courtroom with his attorney Andrea Whitaker. Before that, Whitaker whispered to Witherspoon that he didn’t have to go through with the plea.
Ultimately, Witherspoon said “guilty” when Parker asked him how he pleaded.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison but Witherspoon is likely to face less time when U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko sentences him on Dec. 30. Both sides are free to recommend any sentence they feel is warranted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice said prosecutors agreed to drop eight other charges brought against Witherspoon in a November indictment that included references to other bribes authorities claimed Witherspoon to Taylor.
Witherspoon’s plea is another step in a probe undertook into the actions of Taylor and the contractors he dealt with during his time at the city. He worked for the city for 30 years and retired in January 2018.
Taylor pleaded guilty in September 2018 to extortion and bribery in a federally funded program, admitting to taking thousands of dollars in bribes from two contractors and gave them preferential treatment for government-funded demolition and abatement projects.
Witherspoon, who ran Arick’s Environmental Services and Arick’s Services, met Taylor at restaurants, job sites and parked cars to talk about Witherspoon’s requests for access to information about city jobs and favorable treatment, according to the plea agreement. Taylor also gave Witherspoon help to ensure the jobs Witherspoon worked on would be inspected quickly, prosecutors said.
Witherspoon paid Taylor $3,000 in December 2013 in exchange for help getting on the bid list for a demolition job on Parkwood Drive, as well as a quick inspection. The city awarded Witherspoon the contract, worth $147,000.
Witherspoon is one of two contractors who have been charged in connection to the probe. Martin Fano of North Royalton pleaded guilty in June to seven counts of honest services mail and wire fraud. Fano, who owns ABC Construction, gave Taylor $460 in bribes between June 2016 and January 2017, and also gave Taylor free meals, according to court records.