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Former Lorain official Sandy Prudoff faces state charges


Former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff was indicted on state charges of conspiracy and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity by a Cuyahoga County grand jury on Tuesday.

The charges center on approximately $1.3 million worth of legal work Prudoff allegedly steered to attorney Anthony Calabrese III and his law firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymore & Pease, according to a news release from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty and Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will.

Calabrese was indicted on charges accusing him of running a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, bribery and theft, the release said.

Calabrese is accused of arranging for Alternatives Agency Inc., a Cleveland halfway house he also represented, to pay $164,000 to Prudoff, who in turn allegedly used his influence to help Calabrese win bond counsel work for the law firm.

Prudoff already has pleaded guilty to federal charges accusing him of taking $144,000 in consulting fees from Alternatives for work he never actually performed, failing to pay taxes on those fees and lying to the FBI when he was questioned about it. He is now serving a two-year prison sentence at a federal facility in Morgantown, W.Va.

His plea deal with federal prosecutors didn’t insulate Prudoff from facing state charges. His lawyer, John Ricotta, declined to comment on the new indictment Tuesday because he hadn’t seen the documents.

Prudoff retired in 2009 after he was placed on leave from his long-time city job when it was learned that he was a target in the long-running Cuyahoga County corruption investigation. That probe has led to charges against dozens of former public officials and contractors, including former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is serving a lengthy federal prison sentence.

Court documents in the federal case against Prudoff never spelled out exactly what he was alleged to have done for Calabrese in exchange for the money he received from Alternatives while he was purportedly trying to find a Lorain County location for the halfway house to expand into.

But Prudoff’s plea agreement did note that one of the factors considered by Vorys when it conducted performance evaluations on its lawyers was the “attorney’s ability to obtain and retain clients.”

Calabrese was the city’s primary contact with Vorys, which was paid more than $1.6 million in fees by Lorain beginning in 2001. The bulk of the work that Calabrese and other Vorys lawyers did for the city, Lorain officials have said, was for Prudoff’s Community Development Department.

Lorain has hired a Cleveland law firm to investigate whether the city can sue to recover money spent on deals that were potentially tainted by public corruption, including the Vorys work.

Lorain Law Director Pat Riley and Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Tuesday that review is still ongoing. Ritenauer said the new round of indictments against Prudoff and Calabrese could help if a lawsuit is filed against Vorys.

Ritenauer also acknowledged that the latest charges against Prudoff stem in part from an ongoing investigation into public corruption being conducted by Lorain police and contractor Dennis Terry, a retired FBI agent now working for Vermilion police.

The allegations against Prudoff formed the core of that investigation, Ritenauer said, although the case isn’t closed.

“Where it goes from here, I can’t predict,” Ritenauer said. “It’s certainly ongoing. Could there be more? There certainly could be.”

Calabrese also has pleaded out to a slew of charges in federal court and was sentenced to nine years in prison, although he has yet to begin serving that sentence. The release said prosecutors want Calabrese to be arraigned before he begins serving his federal prison term.

The new charges accuse Calabrese of using Alternatives money to bribe other consults who did little or no work to justify their fees, including former Lakewood Mayor Anthony Sinagra, who was paid $127,000 and is awaiting sentencing in federal court.

Another person Calabrese is accused of bribing is J. Kevin Kelley, a former Parma Schools board member and Cuyahoga County employee, who received $210,236 in payments from Alternatives allegedly at Calabrese’s behest. Kelley, like Sinagra, has pleaded guilty to federal charges and is awaiting sentencing.

Calabrese also is accused of arranging payments of $70,000 to Kelley “in exchange for inside information of the anticipated purchase of the former Ameritrust complex as a new headquarters for the Cuyahoga County government. That is money that ‘Kelley understood to be a bribe,’” the release said.

Cuyahoga County purchased the Ameritrust building for more than $21.8 million and spent millions more on asbestos removal and other work before abandoning the project, The Plain Dealer has reported.

Calabrese is also accused in the new indictment of funneling money through Kelley to fund a notorious Las Vegas trip that included Dimora and former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, who also is imprisoned on federal corruption charges. The goal of that trip was to convince Cuyahoga County’s power brokers to restore funding to Alternatives after it was cut.

The release said that McGinty’s office became involved in the corruption probe during an investigation into allegations that Calabrese and two other lawyers bribed witnesses in the case of alleged serial rapist Thomas Castro while Calabrese was free on bond in the federal case.

Calabrese is still awaiting trial in that case.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

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