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Published: Friday, 7/31/2009

ODOT workers, others face bid-rigging charges

BY JAMES NASH
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

CLEVELAND - Criminal charges could be filed against 31 people in a scandal involving strippers, fishing trips, and bid rigging at an Ohio Department of Transportation district office near Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office said yesterday.

The first nine figures from the scandal were scheduled to face criminal charges yesterday. But glitches in accepting paperwork at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court forced a delay, said Ryan Miday, spokesman for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason.

Seven of the defendants are scheduled to enter pleas this morning, he said. The other two are due in court Tuesday.

Prosecutors did not name the defendants or detail the cases against them, but Mr. Miday said all would be charged with felonies. Six of the nine are contractors; three are Ohio Department of Transportation employees.

The charges stem from more than a decade of questionable dealings at the state transportation agency's office in Garfield Heights, which serves the Cleveland area.

"This is the first wave of charges by Prosecutor Mason," Mr. Miday said.

According to a report by Inspector General Thomas P. Charles' office in October, purchasing managers in the office directed more than $11 million in state contracts to vendors who rewarded the officials with fishing trips, Las Vegas hotel rooms, and sex with strippers.

The state officials short-circuited requirements for competitive bids by forging documents and adding phony requirements for some bidders, the investigation found.

Mr. Charles' investigation led to the resignations or early retirements of seven officials and the suspension of another. The investigation dealt not only with the actions of state officials, but also 29 companies that sold landscaping, doors, light bulbs and other goods and services.

Although the investigation faulted top officials at the Ohio Department of Transportation for failing to catch the fraud, no one outside of the Garfield Heights office has been charged with or accused of wrongdoing.



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