Shortly after accepting a $3,000 bribe from an associate who was secretly cooperating with the FBI, former Toledo City Councilman Bob McCloskey said he had to leave.
I gotta be at an ethics meeting, McCloskey said of a program the Ohio Ethics Commission held for council members March 22.
Both of the men laughed.
But during that meeting and again on April 12, when he accepted a $2,000 bribe from the same unnamed businessman, McCloskey also emphasized his concern that no one including his wife know about the payments.
Because I don t want to go to jail, he said.
A partial transcript of the taped conversations was included in McCloskey s agreement yesterday in which he pleaded guilty to two federal counts of bribery before U.S. District Judge Dave Katz in Toledo.
A few hours later, McCloskey, 60, a Democrat, pleaded no contest and was found guilty of one of two unrelated felony counts of bribery by Judge James Bates in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
The two U.S. counts arose from a federal sting in which McCloskey accepted a total of $5,000 from the unidentified businessman on March 22 and April 12, according to the transcripts.
Each federal bribery charge contains a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine under the Hobbs Act, which covers public officials. However, because he is a first-time defendant and cooperated with authorities in pleading guilty, McCloskey faces a sentence of between 27 and 33 months in prison when sentenced in federal court. No sentencing date has been set.
Ann Rowland, the assistant U.S. attorney who handled the case, told Judge Katz that, as part of the plea agreement, the prosecutor s office would not proceed against McCloskey on other information it has.
She said the federal government would recommend that the sentence on the federal charges run at the same time as the sentence in the Lucas County case.
Shortly after his federal court appearance, McCloskey went to county Common Pleas Court, where he pleaded no contest and was found guilty on one count of two counts of bribery under the terms of a plea agreement from his Feb. 10 indictment.
McCloskey could face from one to five years in state prison and a $10,000 fine on that charge from Judge Bates, who scheduled sentencing for July 11.
The second state bribery count will be dismissed at sentencing, the judge said.
Probation is also an option a judge can consider.
McCloskey, who resigned his at-large council seat effective May 2, remained free yesterday on an unsecured $10,000 bond from federal court and on his own recognizance from Common Pleas Court.
The East Toledo resident was accompanied to the two court hearings by his wife, Barbara, and three children. He declined comment to reporters. His lawyer, Jay Feldstein, said McCloskey blames no one but himself.
What you saw today is a man taking full responsibility for his actions ... He wants no sympathy from anyone, Mr. Feldstein said.
Erich Speckin, the Okemos, Mich., property developer whose rezoning case and federal civil suit led to a criminal investigation by the Lucas County Prosecutor s Office, attended both hearings.
There just seems to be a pattern of events by him doing the same thing to other people, Mr. Speckin told The Blade after the federal hearing.
McCloskey was first elected to council in 1993 and had served until this year as the District 3 council representative for East Toledo and part of the south end. He was elected to a four-year term as an at-large councilman in November.
Evidence put on the record yesterday in the U.S. District Court hearing showed that McCloskey promised to help an unnamed business associate, with whom he had a long-time relationship, with two projects.
In return, the businessman gave him two payments totaling $5,000. McCloskey told the businessman that he needed the money for a legal defense fund.
The businessman began cooperating with FBI agents in March, according to the partial transcript.
In the March 22 exchange, McCloskey promised to push through a deal to get the businessman some city-owned land and that he would help him get a forgiveable loan from the city.
According to the transcript, McCloskey insisted he wanted to treat the $3,000 payment as a personal loan, but the businessman said he didn t want the money back.
McCloskey pocketed the cash and said he didn t want the transaction in writing.
I am paranoid as hell, he said. If I m not paranoid, I m stupid.
The businessman pushed McCloskey to assure him that they had a deal and to assure him that he could get the land for free, prompting McCloskey to respond, nobody else wants it.
According to the transcript, McCloskey mentioned that he had to leave to attend an ethics seminar sponsored by the Ohio Ethics Commission. Both men laughed.
And if I m not sitting in the front row, [Blade reporter] Tom Troy is gonna be wondering, Where s McCloskey? he said.
McCloskey told the businessman he believed the seminar was the result of criminal investigations of Tom Noe, the former Toledo-area coin dealer and Republican party fund-raiser involved in the Coingate probe.
[Democratic Toledo City Councilman] Frankie Szollosi and everybody s been talking about ethics, ethics, [and] the state Democratic Party because of Noe and So they brought the Ethics Commission into Toledo and they re giving a all, all the government employees are going to be at a meeting at Government Center at one o clock on ethics, McCloskey said.
In the April 12 exchange, McCloskey accepted the $2,000 and agreed to help get a 3.3-acre parcel rezoned. References identifying the parcel were redacted from the transcript.
The Lucas County bribery counts allege that McCloskey in 2002 demanded a payment of $100,000 from Mr. Speckin and Pilkington Plc for a prescription drug fund for his fellow Pilkington retirees as the price for getting a rezoning application passed.
McCloskey had come under criticism from retirees because, as a former Pilkington union official, he helped negotiate an annual benefits cap of $2,000 for prescriptions for retirees of the glass manufacturing company.
Mr. Speckin, through his business, EJS Properties LLC, planned to buy a 15-acre portion of Pilkington s former technical center property at 1701 East Broadway and redevelop it for a charter school.
McCloskey supported the application before the Toledo Plan Commission in June, 2002, and before city council s zoning and planning committee, where it received a 7-0 vote to recommend approval in July, 2002.
A month later, however, the full council voted it down, 7-4. Four council members changed their votes from yes to no, including McCloskey.
In January, 2004, council voted 12-0 to rezone the same parcel, as part of a 43-acre site, for a Toledo Public Schools middle school.
Mr. Speckin filed a $10 million civil suit in federal court against the city and McCloskey later in 2004.
The suit was put on hold pending the completion of the criminal case. Proceedings are expected to resume after McCloskey is sentenced.
In his summary of the state s case against McCloskey, Robert Miller, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, disclosed that two members of Toledo City Council had been told of McCloskey s $100,000 request and that McCloskey had solicited both of them to vote against the rezoning.
Mr. Miller identified the two as Republican Councilman George Sarantou and former Councilman Louis Escobar, a Democrat.
Mr. Miller said both men were told they could vote against the rezoning and blame it on the Toledo Federation of Teachers union, which had expressed opposition to EJS request to rezone the property for a charter school.
Mr. Escobar was absent from the council meeting and did not vote, while Mr. Sarantou supported the rezoning request.
Mr. Escobar confirmed yesterday that McCloskey told him before the zoning vote that he had asked EJS for the money. Mr. Escobar said he told him it would look strange for McCloskey to change his vote after he had previously supported the developer.
Mr. Escobar said a representative of EJS mentioned the matter to him a month later and told him about phone messages left by McCloskey. He told them to consider prosecution.
However, Mr. Escobar said he did not go to authorities about the case because it would have been his word against McCloskey s and that he had no proof. EJS, he said, had the proof and the burden was on them.
If it s true you have this tape, you have to do something about it, he said he told them.
Mr. Sarantou, who is running for Lucas County commissioner in the Nov. 7 general election, said yesterday he could not comment on the advice of a city attorney because the city is still a defendant in the civil suit.
Staff Writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.