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Published: Saturday, 9/3/2011

Lucas prosecutor won’t investigate McCloskey bribe-case allegations

Former Toledo Councilman Bob McCloskey sought bribes while in office which other officials allegedly knew about. Former Toledo Councilman Bob McCloskey sought bribes while in office which other officials allegedly knew about.
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Despite recently revealed allegations that several local politicians knew about a bribe solicited by former Toledo Councilman Bob McCloskey, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she has no plans to further investigate.

Her office successfully prosecuted McCloskey in 2006 for demanding a $100,000 bribe from a company to set up a fund for Pilkington retirees as a condition for his vote on a 2002 rezoning ordinance. While under indictment for that crime, he also took $5,000 in bribes from businessmen who wanted assistance from the city on development projects. He served 20 months in prison.

Those criminal cases were spawned by a civil lawsuit filed against the city in 2004 by EJS Properties LLC of Okemos, Mich. The lawsuit accuses council of voting down company owner Erich J. Speckin’s rezoning application because of his and Pilkington’s refusal to meet McCloskey’s demands for the $100,000. Mr. Speckin planned to buy part of the former Pilkington research center at 1701 East Broadway and lease it to a charter school.

In a 550-page deposition from 2007 that was only recently made available in U.S. District Court, former Councilman Louis Escobar stated under oath that at least five of his fellow council members were aware of McCloskey’s demand for a bribe, as were several top city officials who dealt with council. According to Mr. Escobar’s sworn testimony, he spoke about McCloskey’s $100,000 demand with then-councilmen Peter Gerken, Peter Ujvagi, Wade Kapszukiewicz, Wilma Brown, and Gene Zmuda.

He also testified that he discussed McCloskey’s $100,000 demand with Michael Beazley, who was then the clerk of council, and with Stephen Herwat, who was then the city plan director.

Many of those officials have since moved on to higher positions. All have denied Mr. Escobar’s testimony that they knew of McCloskey’s solicitation or said they couldn’t recall the conversations in their own depositions in the case.

The question of who knew what when is significant because state law requires those with knowledge of a felony to report the crime to authorities.

Ms. Bates said, however, that without evidence to corroborate Mr. Escobar’s claims, she has no plans to revisit ground already covered in her office’s investigation of McCloskey.

“There would have to be some trail, some phone calls, some other witness, an e-mail written,” she said. Her office found nothing like that when investigating McCloskey, she said.

Initially, the fact that so many public officials reversed their votes on the zoning issue “raised a red flag,” she said. Council’s zoning and planning committee voted 7-0 to recommend the rezoning application for passage in 2002, but a month later, councilmen Ujvagi, Wilma Brown, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, and McCloskey — all Democrats — reversed their decisions and the application was defeated in a 7-4 vote of council.

Ms. Bates, also a Democrat, said prosecutors looked into the vote reversals but didn’t see any links to McCloskey’s solicitation.

“They had other reasons for changing their mind because of the pressure from the teachers’ union,” she said. “You can argue, ‘Should council people be changing their vote because of pressure from the union?’ but that’s not a crime.”

She doubted the politicians named by Mr. Escobar would risk their careers to protect a “scumbag.”

“It just didn’t make sense to me,” she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bauer, whose office prosecuted McCloskey for the $5,000 bribes, wouldn’t say if his office might look into Mr. Escobar’s accusations.

Contact Tony Cook at: tcook@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.

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