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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

McCloskey quits Toledo council amid scandal

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Councilman Bob McCloskey, who is facing two counts of bribery in Lucas County Common Pleas Court and is a defendant with the city in a related civil suit, turned in his resignation from council yesterday, effective Tuesday.

Mr. McCloskey s attorney, Jay Feldstein, hand-delivered the resignation letter to Jerry Dendinger, clerk of council, yesterday afternoon.

In addition to the Lucas County charges, The Blade has reported that Mr. McCloskey was videotaped in a federal sting two weeks ago accepting cash in exchange for agreeing to help a businessman develop an amusement park in East Toledo. No charges have been filed.

In the resignation letter yesterday, Mr. McCloskey, 60, a Democrat, thanked the mayor, his current and former colleagues, people who have supported him, and his constituents.

He said the legal charges against him have interfered with his ability to function as a councilman. Mr. McCloskey has missed two recent meetings of council a special meeting on April 13 and a regular meeting on Tuesday and an agenda review meeting on April 18 where attendance is not taken.

It is apparent to me that my involvement in the pending civil and criminal litigation compromises my ability to effectively serve as a council member, he attendance is not taken. It is apparent to me that my involvement in the pending civil and criminal litigation compromises my ability to effectively serve as a council member, he wrote.

A Lucas County grand jury indicted Mr. McCloskey Feb. 10 on two felony bribery counts 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 for the former Pilkington research center in East Toledo.

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.

Mr. McCloskey has pleaded not guilty in that case and remains free on his recognizance.

Mr. McCloskey is also a defendant in a $10 million civil suit that was filed in 2004 in U.S. District Court in Toledo by EJS Properties. The city is a co-defendant in the lawsuit. Depositions filed in that case led to the criminal investigation and subsequent charges by the Lucas County prosecutor s office.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said a trial on the two felony counts of bribery is still scheduled to begin May 9 in Common Pleas Court. She said she believed stepping down was appropriate in light of the very serious allegations facing him.

It would be very difficult for him to continue representing his constituents while he is trying to prepare for trial, she said.

Mr. McCloskey showed up in council offices yesterday morning with his wife, Barbara, for a conversation with Mr. Dendinger, just hours before his lawyer dropped off the resignation letter. Mr. McCloskey was described by people who saw him as looking tired and anxious.

Bob McCloskey and Peter Ujvagi wait for voting results in November, 1993. That night Mr. McCloskey was elected to serve as the first District 3 councilman. Bob McCloskey and Peter Ujvagi wait for voting results in November, 1993. That night Mr. McCloskey was elected to serve as the first District 3 councilman.
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Council will have 30 days following the resignation to appoint a replacement. If council fails to do so, the appointment becomes the mayor s responsibility.

Council members are paid $27,500 a year, receive the same health coverage as other city employees, and may seek reimbursement of up to $200 a month for official expenses. They also participate in the state Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

Richard Baker, a PERS spokesman, said conviction of bribery does not automatically strip someone of his pension. In cases of theft in office, however, a prosecutor can go after pension benefits to obtain restitution, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

Mr. McCloskey s pending departure ends the career of a politician who once contemplated a run for mayor, and recently unsuccessfully sought the post of council president.

He represented East Toledo as its first District 3 councilman since the creation of the district-council form of government in 1993. He was elected to a four-year, at-large seat last November a process unsuccessfully challenged before the Ohio Supreme Court by political rival Dave Schulz.

In the past two years, Mr. McCloskey has been dogged by ethical and legal charges.

Mr. Schulz, who opposed him in the 2005 election, filed two complaints over campaign issues with the Ohio Elections Commission, but both were dismissed.

Mr. McCloskey ran for council president Jan. 3, but lost to Republican Rob Ludeman.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner issued a statement that Mr. McCloskey is now and always has been a committed and caring individual and a hardworking citizen and council member.

He wished Mr. McCloskey well and said, my thoughts and prayers are with him through the days and weeks to come.

Mr. Ludeman said he has known Mr. McCloskey since before they were both elected in 1993.

We worked very well together. He s served his constituency well. It s unfortunate what happened. I think the decision is best for him and his family, Mr. Ludeman said.

Councilman Ellen Grachek, who sat next to Mr. McCloskey at council, said he had a reputation for being a hard-working district representative.

It s truly sad that any good he did is now tarnished, she said.

Councilman Frank Szollosi, who earlier this year called on Mr. McCloskey to resign because of the indictment, said he was known as East Toledo s bulldog.

While having no sympathy whatsoever for the decisions that led to this, that s not Bob s only legacy as a public servant, Mr. Szollosi said.

While instances of elected officials in northwest Ohio resigning after being indicted are rare, they have occurred before:

• In 1970, James Ellenberger resigned as sheriff of Ottawa County while under indictment by a federal grand jury on a charge of perjury in an investigation into prostitution and payoffs to public officials. Ellenberger later pleaded guilty to perjury and was placed on probation for three years.

• Ken Schneider resigned as a Fremont city councilman in 2002 after being accused in federal court of possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Some other area officials have been indicted in office, but remained in their positions or were not forced out because they were not convicted of felonies.

A former Putnam County sheriff, the late Robert Beutler, was indicted on 38 counts of felonies and misdemeanors in 1981 including mistreatment of prisoners, dereliction of duty, and theft in office. All but one of the charges were later dismissed. The one taken to court ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict.

A later Putnam County sheriff, Ronald Diemer, was indicted on charges of theft in office and tampering with evidence in 1988. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was not forced to resign. He lost a 2000 re-election bid.

Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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