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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

McCloskey complaint resurfaces

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Before county and federal officials began to build the bribery case that has toppled the career of East Toledo politician Bob McCloskey, there was Elias Cash.

Mr. Cash, 47, the owner of a used-car business on Oak Street in East Toledo, complained bitterly about Toledo City Councilman McCloskey's opposition to his efforts to develop a restaurant and convenience store on an adjacent lot in 2002 and 2003.

Those complaints prompted a brief Toledo police inquiry, but they largely fell on deaf ears.

Mr. Cash, who came here from the Middle East as a teenager, won't publicly detail his complaints about Mr. McCloskey.

But he has told The Blade, "I felt discriminated against. Somebody on McCloskey's good side can get anything he wants done."

Mr. McCloskey is expected to enter U.S. District Court tomorrow and enter a plea leading to his conviction on bribery charges. The charges stem from a federal sting carried out in March and April in which Mr. McCloskey was videotaped accepting a total of $5,000 from an unnamed businessman who was cooperating with the FBI.

He also faces unrelated bribery charges in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. He and the city are being sued for $10 million in federal court stemming from his alleged bribery.

The combined weight of the criminal charges and litigation forced Mr. McCloskey, 60, a Democrat, to resign on Tuesday, ending his 13-year career in local politics.

Until his political demise, getting things done was Mr. McCloskey's expertise as a city councilman.

He welcomed constituent calls and posted his name and phone number on large billboards across the city inviting people to call with complaints.

The tactic was so effective that Mr. McCloskey's council aide once joked she was going to chop down the billboards.

But his colleagues on council grew increasingly wary of tactics that appeared to blur the lines between honest campaign fund-raising and cash-influenced deal-making.

Two former colleagues have said in the past week that Mr. McCloskey once gave them envelopes stuffed with cash, telling them it was from his "friends."

Wade Kapszukiewicz, the Lucas County treasurer and a former city councilman, said he found an envelope containing at least five $100 bills on his chair in late 2002 or early 2003 - an apparent contribution on behalf of strip club owners who were trying to water down his ordinance restricting sexually oriented businesses.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he gave the envelope back to Mr. McCloskey and told him it was illegal, but he never told police or prosecutors.

Councilman George Sarantou, the Republican candidate for Lucas County commissioner on the Nov. 7 ballot, said Mr. McCloskey gave him an envelope that felt like it was full of money. He handed it right back, he said, but did not inform law enforcement authorities.

Asked if he thought he'd been the target of an attempted bribe, Mr. Sarantou said, "I don't know."

Former Council President Louis Escobar said Mr. McCloskey once offered to hold a fund-raiser for him.

"We can do a fund-raiser for you - my buddies and me - you won't have to do anything," Mr. Escobar recalled being assured by Mr. McCloskey as they rode the elevator down to the first floor of Government Center for a council meeting.

Mr. Escobar said he declined the offer.

A review by The Blade of Mr. McCloskey's campaign-finance records and city zoning and planning records shows some of his most generous political contributors are Toledo businessmen who have benefited from his willingness to lobby hard on their behalf with city bureaucrats and fellow city councilmen.

  • Mr. McCloskey received $700 in campaign contributions from Ben Sayed in 2005. Mr. Sayed, who lives in Oregon, owns two convenience stores. He overcame objections from city planners about his business proposals with Mr. McCloskey's support.

    Mr. Sayed's Gateway Sunoco, at Summit and Clayton streets in South Toledo, initially was opposed by the plan commission as too small a location. Mr. McCloskey advocated for the project and it passed City Council in January, 2002.

    Mr. Sayed is also an owner of Haverhill Development, which is converting a lot on Haverhill Drive near I-75 into a gas station and convenience store. The plan commission opposed two requested median cuts on Haverhill and Berdan Avenue, but with Mr. McCloskey's backing, the developers received approval of a cut in the Berdan median.

    And council recently passed an ordinance to pay the $8,850 cost for the median cut.

    Mr. McCloskey, in an interview with The Blade before the filing of federal bribery charges, denied that his influence was key on either of those projects.

    "It takes 12 votes. Sayed goes to every council member," he said.

    Mr. Sayed did not return phone calls seeking comment.

  • In 2002, Mr. McCloskey went to bat for the owners of strip clubs over a proposed ordinance that would have effectively outlawed lap dances by requiring a six-foot separation between dancers and patrons.

    Tony Dia, the owner of Platinum Showgirls strip club at Alexis and Telegraph roads and an outspoken opponent of the ordinance, is recorded as giving $100 in cash to Mr. McCloskey at a fund-raising event in October, according to campaign finance reports.

    Mr. Dia did not return phone calls seeking comment.

  • Recently, Mr. McCloskey voted in favor and spoke favorably at council meetings on behalf of a convenience store zoning application sought by Dan Abu-Ridi for a location on Lagrange Street, north of Manhattan Boulevard.

    Last year, Mr. Abu-Ridi contributed $1,700 to Mr. McCloskey's election campaign for an at-large council seat.

    Terry Glazer, executive director of Lagrange Development Corp., which opposed the store, said Mr. McCloskey called him trying to broker an agreement to get the North Toledo carryout approved.

    "He's the only one who actually lobbied on [Mr. Abu-Ridi's] behalf," Mr. Glazer said.

    Mr. Abu-Ridi acknowledged he contributed money to Mr. McCloskey's campaign, and to other councilmen, but said he didn't ask him for help, especially after the filing of the 2004 lawsuit.

    "Bob was not in a position because of that lawsuit to help anybody," Mr. Abu-Ridi said.

  • According to Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Tavern on Alexis Road, Mr. McCloskey implied that his vote was related to campaign contributions.

    During council's consideration of a citywide smoking ban in 2003, Mr. Delaney, an opponent of the ordinance, said he called Mr. McCloskey to urge him to vote no on the smoking ban.

    "When I called him the night before the vote on the cigarette issue, he said, 'You bastards have never crossed my palm with one dime. Why should I vote for your issue?' " Mr. Delaney said.

  • The $10 million lawsuit that set in motion the criminal investigation of Mr. McCloskey accuses him of threatening to use his influence to defeat a rezoning plan unless the applicants gave in to his demand for a $100,000 payment to be made to a prescription-drug fund for fellow Pilkington Plc retirees.

    EJS Properties LLC of Okemos, Mich., was seeking to acquire a portion of the former Pilkington technical center at 1701 East Broadway to develop as a charter school.

    In its lawsuit, filed in 2004, EJS Properties claimed that Mr. McCloskey turned his colleagues on council against the plan after EJS and Pilkington refused his demand for money.

    The rezoning was defeated "as a result of the interference, misconduct, and improper motives of [Mr. McCloskey]," the suit charged.

    For Elias Cash, however, there was no support from Mr. McCloskey for his plans to convert a former potato chip factory at 228 Oak St. into a convenience store.

    Even though he was an East Toledo businessman who was off to a good start when he obtained beer and wine carryout permits from the state Division of Liquor Control in 2002 - with no opposition from council or Toledo Public Schools - the smooth sailing turned bumpy after Mr. McCloskey made his opposition known.

    The project annoyed one of Mr. McCloskey's most generous campaign contributors - Mike Taouil, then the owner of the East Side Carryout at Woodville Road and Oak Street, about one-half mile south of Mr. Cash's business.

    Mr. Taouil acknowledged that a petition was posted in his store collecting signatures in opposition to Mr. Cash's application for rezoning. He would not identify the person who put it there.

    Mr. Taouil contributed $900 to Mr. McCloskey's political campaigns between 2000 and 2003.

    He said he did not ask Mr. McCloskey to oppose the rezoning and he said Mr. McCloskey's opposition wasn't what stopped Mr. Cash's plans because the planned store was across Oak from Franklin Elementary School.

    "Even if [Mr. McCloskey] says yes, there is no way they are going to approve it. With a school it's very, very tough to get [a] zoning change," Mr. Taouil said.

    Mr. Cash claims that River East Economic Revitalization Corp. at first supported his plans for a business that would include a restaurant, a carryout, and a convenience store.

    "I talked to the school, I talked to River East, they didn't have any objection," Mr. Cash said. "When McCloskey stepped in, he started turning everyone different."

    "Don Monroe [executive director of River East] and Mary Ellen [Poturalski, former associate director] came here several times before McCloskey started kicking me around," Mr. Cash said.

    River East officials said Mr. Cash tried to conceal the fact that he planned to sell alcohol at the store.

    "This guy is just a liar," Mr. Monroe said of Mr. Cash. "He kept telling different stories."

    Ms. Poturalski also said she tried to help Mr. Cash come up with a plan for using his business but made it clear that River East would not support a beer carryout across from Franklin Elementary.

    Interviewed several weeks ago, Mr. McCloskey said Mr. Cash's claim that he obstructed his plans over failure to contribute or out of loyalty to another contributor are "ridiculous."

    "I just felt at the time he could have done a much better job with the business he had and that that wasn't an appropriate location for a convenience store," Mr. McCloskey said.

    City planners also said the 200 block of Oak Street was the wrong place for a convenience store because it is across a busy street from a school and because the block is targeted for single-family residential development - even though it has no single-family residences and is zoned industrial.

    Mr. Cash contends his plans would have improved the appearance and the value of the block, while creating a tax-generating business.

    Mr. Cash won't detail his complaints about Mr. McCloskey, but he triggered a police inquiry two years later when he leveled accusations against Mr. McCloskey to a city official.

    Stephen Herwat, director of the city plan commission, said Mr. Cash complained to him about receiving a political fund-raising solicitation from then-Councilman McCloskey.

    "He said, 'I got a fund-raising solicitation in the mail. I don't like to do business that way,' " Mr. Herwat said.

    Mr. Herwat said he advised Mr. Cash to take his complaint to law enforcement authorities.

    "I said if you felt there was a connection you should go to the police," Mr. Herwat recalled. He said the word "bribe" was never mentioned by Mr. Cash.

    He said it was about a year later, which he believes was in 2004 or 2005, when Mr. Cash apparently made the same claim to then-Mayor Jack Ford at a "Meet the Mayor Night."

    A week later, Mr. Herwat said, he was interviewed in his office by Toledo police Sgt. Robert Maxwell.

    Sergeant Maxwell refused to discuss the case. Police Chief Jack Smith confirmed there was an investigation. He said there were no police reports generated as a result of the inquiry.

    The trail was later picked up by the Lucas County prosecutor's office looking for connections to bribery charges that emerged as a result of the $10 million lawsuit filed against Mr. McCloskey and the city in the Pilkington case.

    The prosecutor's chief investigator, Frank Stiles, confirmed he looked into Mr. Cash's allegations about Mr. McCloskey and said the East Toledo businessman is a potential prosecution witness.

    While Mr. Cash has refused to detail his complaints about Mr. McCloskey to The Blade, he found other ways to air his bitterness.

    One of Mr. Cash's drawings for his proposed carryout in the Toledo Plan Commission file for his application shows a stick figure of a man drawn in the middle of the proposed business. The man has his hand extended as if asking for money. The man in the drawing is identified as "Bob."

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



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