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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Burns plotted theft, jury told


CLEVELAND - Former Cleveland schools Chief Operating Officer Daniel Burns conspired with a Toledo businessman on $154,400 in phony purchases, then the two would meet at a Toledo-area Hooters restaurant to split the cash stolen from the district, a Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor said yesterday.

John Briggle, owner of Superior Offset Supplies, will testify that he met periodically with Mr. Burns and passed him money in amounts small enough to evade notice, Assistant Prosecutor Paul Soucie said in opening remarks at Mr. Burns' trial.

Defense lawyer John McCaffrey cast Briggle as a liar who took advantage of a connection with Mr. Burns that dates back 30 years, including Mr. Burns' time as business manager and assistant to the business manager for the Toledo schools.

Mr. Burns, who resigned from the Cleveland schools in January, 2009, is charged with theft in office, racketeering, and tampering with records and faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted. Briggle pleaded guilty last week to charges of theft and tampering with records and will be sentenced next month.

Evidence will show that Briggle deposited checks made out to Superior Offset Supplies, then withdrew the money in cash, Mr. Soucie said. The assistant prosecutor said bank records show that Mr. Burns then used his debit card to pay for meals at which the money was divided.

"Two people set out on a mission," Mr. Soucie told jurors. "When they were done, the children of the Cleveland schools missed out on $154,000."

Mr. McCaffrey conceded that Mr. Burns spoke with Briggle about the district's large volume of printing work and that Mr. Burns initiated the purchase of six massive duplicating machines. But Mr. McCaffrey said Mr. Burns, whose Cleveland salary and Toledo pension benefits topped $250,000 a year, had no financial incentive to take part in a scheme.

State auditors rushed to judgment and failed to seek evidence that could exonerate Mr. Burns, Mr. McCaffrey said.

"These auditors were all too willing to swallow the lies Briggle told them," Mr. McCaffrey said.

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