Edwin Bergsmark, once the owner of the area's largest real estate and development firm, went on trial yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on passing bad checks, forgery, and bribery charges.
Mr. Bergsmark, 61, of Sylvania, is the former president and chief executive officer of the defunct Cavista Corp., which was the parent company of the former Cavalear Realty Co.
He is accused of 12 counts of passing bad checks for writing commission checks he knew would bounce in December, 2001, to Cavalear Realty agents.
The former Toledo civic leader also faces bribery and forgery charges for actions related to his involvement in a project to develop a city apartment complex into a condominium project.
The trial, which is expected to go through next week, is being heard by Judge Frederick McDonald.
Mr. Bergsmark, former chairman of the Toledo Mud Hens, yesterday waived having the case heard by a jury, instead opting for Judge McDonald to decide his guilt or innocence.
In opening statements, J. Christopher Anderson, an assistant county prosecutor, said the bad-check charges involved commissions for 12 agents, but many other employees in the company were deprived of income because of bogus checks.
Mr. Anderson said Mr. Bergsmark was warned by KeyBank in early December, 2001, that he didn't have enough in his bank accounts to cover the checks he had written
Despite the warning, Mr. Anderson said, the businessman continued writing checks to agents until the company closed its doors for good at the end of 2001.
But Jerome Phillips, an attorney for Mr. Bergsmark, said funds in the accounts were controlled by bank officials, and his client did not transfer money or authorize the signing of checks.
“Those were corporate checks and not checks belonging to Mr. Bergsmark,” Mr. Phillips said. “The banks decided what checks would be paid and not be paid.”
Judge McDonald listened to the testimony of 11 former Cavalear real estate agents whose commission checks bounced.
Many of the agents said they had worked at the company for years, but did not encounter problems cashing checks until December, 2001. In addition to commissions, some agents were charged fees by banks for bounced checks.
Christine Conklin, who went to work at Cavalear Realty in 1999, told the judge commission checks she received for the sale of a house in Maumee were returned because of insufficient funds. Mrs. Conklin, whose husband, William, was president of Cavalear Realty, said she never received any of the money owed to her.
However, when questioned by Mr. Phillips, Mrs. Conklin and the other agents said the checks were not signed by Mr. Bergsmark and they did not believe he was personally responsible for the payments.
Dressed in a black sports jacket, blue-striped shirt, and gold tie, Mr. Bergsmark paid close attention to the testimony of his former employees. But he occasionally turned to talk to Mr. Phillips, and wrote on a yellow legal pad. His wife sat in the courtroom with reporters and other spectators.
Mr. Bergsmark also is accused with James Thurston, a former Toledo housing commissioner, of bribery and forgery. Prosecutors said Mr. Thurston, under orders from former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to move into the city, accepted a rent-free apartment on West Bancroft Street that was managed by Mr. Bergsmark's company.
In return, Mr. Anderson said Mr. Thurston was asked to encourage Toledo City Council to put up money toward turning Beacon Place apartments, which were managed by Cavista, into condominiums.
Mr. Anderson said Mr. Thurston signed the lease in 1997, but did not move into the apartment. However, he eventually changed his voting address to reflect that he was living there.
In opening remarks, Mr. Phillips said his client never received any special consideration for the project and leased the apartment to help a friend.
Mr. Thurston, of Perrysburg Township, will go on trial March 18 on bribery and forgery charges. He also faces a felony count of false registration and illegal voting.
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