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Published: Tuesday, 6/8/2010

Trial begins in Cleveland on $155,000 alleged theft


CLEVELAND - Over 30 years, Daniel Burns rose from a $5.20-an-hour job operating and maintaining printing equipment to become chief business official in two major Ohio school districts.

Mr. Burns went on trial yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, trying to keep his lofty climb from ending in a precipitous fall.

The former chief operating officer of the Cleveland schools is accused of stealing nearly $155,000 from the district with phony purchases. He resigned in January, 2009, a month after the allegations became public.

Mr. Burns had previously been business manager for Toledo Public Schools, and he is being investigated for his actions in Toledo.

Mr. Burns, 54, is charged with theft in office, racketeering, and tampering with records and faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted. Co-defendant John Briggle, owner of Superior Offset Supplies in Toledo, has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

The trial began yesterday with jury selection and could last until the middle of next week.

In questioning prospective jurors, Mr. Burns' lawyer, John McCaffrey, offered a glimpse of his defense.

He asked them how they would view the testimony of a witness who had struck a deal with the prosecution. He also tried to put them in Mr. Burns' place and suggested they would give less scrutiny to a vendor they trusted and thought they knew well.

"Sometimes you can be manipulated and cheated by people who are very close to you," Mr. McCaffrey said.

Lucas County prosecutors are investigating accusations that Mr. Burns and Mr. Briggle ran a similar operation in Toledo, where Mr. Burns was employed for 30 years and eventually became business manager for the schools. State auditors say the two men netted $660,000.

Eugene Sanders, Cleveland schools chief executive officer and formerly Toledo's superintendent, brought Mr. Burns with him to Cleveland in 2006.

Mr. Sanders, who has said he was unaware of Mr. Burns' activities, is on the prosecution's witness list.

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