Toledo City Councilman Bob McCloskey was videotaped in a federal sting last week accepting cash in exchange for helping a businessman develop an amusement park in East Toledo, The Blade has learned.
The incident comes as a scheduled May 9 trial date approaches in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on two existing bribery counts against the longtime Democratic city councilman.
According to sources, Mr. McCloskey took $3,000 to assist a person seeking help with obtaining land and permits from the city for an amusement park project.
Asked to comment, Mr. McCloskey said, "I can't talk about it." Asked if he intends to resign from City Council, he said, "I don't know what I'm going to do."
His lawyer, Jay Feldstein, also declined comment when contacted by The Blade. Mr. McCloskey, 61, represented East Toledo as the District 3 councilman until Jan. 3, when he was sworn in to a new four-year term as an at-large councilman. He has been absent from three meetings of City Council since the sting last week, including a special meeting of council April 13, a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, and an agenda review meeting on Tuesday.
On April 11, Mr. McCloskey received permission from Lucas County Common Pleas Court to go with other councilmen to San Antonio to view a river walk like one Toledo hopes to extend along the east shore of the Maumee River from International Park to the planned Marina District. On April 13, however, Mr. McCloskey indicated he did not plan to go on the trip and did not attend the special council meeting.
U.S. Attorney Gregory White refused to confirm or deny the sting or whether there was any investigation under way involving Mr. McCloskey, citing office practice.
A Lucas County grand jury indicted Mr. McCloskey Feb. 10 on two felony bribery charges for allegedly demanding $100,000 for a prescription-drug fund for fellow Pilkington retirees in exchange for his support on a zoning issue.
Prosecutors said Mr. McCloskey made demands in 2002 to officials of Pilkington, based in Rossford, and EJS Properties, a Michigan charter-school developer, in exchange for his support of a rezoning. The companies needed a zoning change to convert a former Pilkington research and office facility at East Broadway and Oakdale Avenue to a charter school.
The property was eventually obtained by Toledo Public Schools and rezoned for use as a "swing" school during construction of other new schools.
According to documents on file in the civil case, Mr. McCloskey left three voice-mail messages with Pilkington officials and EJS owner Erich Speckin alluding to the need to put up the money in order to move the rezoning forward.
In one voice mail, Mr. McCloskey allegedly told a Pilkington representative, "That's how business works in the city if you want to get something done."
Mr. McCloskey initially endorsed the application, helping it overcome opposition at the Toledo Plan Commission and the Toledo City Council zoning and planning committee. But it was defeated at the full council level after Mr. McCloskey withdrew his support.
A trial is scheduled for May 9, and Mr. McCloskey remains free on his own recognizance. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of one to five years and a $10,000 fine on each count. A person convicted of bribery is also barred from holding public office.
A person charged with and convicted of violating the federal public corruption law covering state and local officials, known as the Hobbs Act, can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
At the time of the indictment by the county grand jury, Mr. Feldstein said Mr. McCloskey intended to fight the criminal charges and would not resign.
Mr. McCloskey is also a defendant in a $10 million civil suit filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo by EJS. The city is a co-defendant in the civil lawsuit, and is paying for Mr. McCloskey's defense in that case. The councilman is required to pay for his defense in the criminal case, and has approached Oregon businessman John Shousher and others about his need for money to pay his legal bills. A fund-raiser to set up a legal defense fund for Mr. McCloskey was set for March 24 at the Maumee Chop House, but the event was canceled because of concerns that people who did business with the city would not be able to contribute because of state ethics law.
Officials involved in the case have acknowledged that Mr. McCloskey has a potentially viable "Robin Hood" defense against the charges in the Pilkington/EJS property matter. Mr. McCloskey has claimed he was trying to make Pilkington, a multinational glass manufacturer, live up to commitments purportedly made to its retirees.
Mr. McCloskey is himself a Pilkington retiree, and was blamed by other retirees for his role as a union official in negotiating prescription coverage that let Pilkington off the hook.
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