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Published: 6/11/2010

Toledo businessman testifies Burns' school theft scam not his idea

(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

A man who says he helped former Cleveland schools Chief Operating Officer Daniel Burns steal nearly $155,000 from the district has cast Burns as the author and mastermind of the scheme.

Toledo businessman John Briggle, testifying against Burns on Thursday, also said he is cooperating with prosecutors to clear his conscience, not to get leniency.

"Anything else, going to my maker would be a risk," he told Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Soucie. Later, he told defense lawyer John McCaffrey: "The truth will take me where it takes me."

Briggle faced an all-out assault on his character from McCaffrey, who portrayed him as a high-living double-talker and noted that Briggle has been indicted in a similar case involving Toledo Hospital.

Burns, 54, resigned in January 2009 after 21/2 years on the job in Cleveland. He is charged with racketeering, theft in office and tampering with records -- offenses that could net him 35 years in prison if he is convicted.

Briggle, 56, has pleaded guilty to theft and tampering with records and will be sentenced July 7. The more serious racketeering charge and two tampering charges were dropped.

Briggle, owner of Superior Offset Supplies in Toledo, said Burns concocted plans to stage the purchase of six giant duplicating machines that never existed, packaging the equipment in pairs priced just under the $50,000 threshold for taking bids. One charge involves $5,900 for consulting that Briggle says was never performed.

During 21/2 hours of testimony, Briggle said Burns hand-delivered checks, calling first to say, "I have something for you."

Briggle said he would deposit the schools' checks, then cash checks written to himself and give at least half of the money to Burns. He said he and Burns would meet at Hooters or other Toledo-area restaurants, passing the money in a bank envelope or videocassette case.

McCaffrey has accused Briggle of lying to save himself from a long prison term. The lawyer has said that Briggle put one over on Burns, his longtime friend, but Briggle said he could not have acted alone.

"I don't know the inner workings of the school district," he told Soucie. "I wouldn't begin to know how to circumvent the system."

McCaffrey pelted Briggle with questions about his spending and partying, getting him to admit that he hosted Hooters Girls every year on a chartered boat and had a tanning bed in his home.

Faced with questions related to his honesty, Briggle acknowledged that he initially could not tell state auditors how much of the money Burns received. And he could not explain an invoice from a fictitious remodeling company found on his computer, other than to suggest it was a template.

Lucas County prosecutors are investigating whether Burns and Briggle used a similar scheme to steal $660,000 from the Toledo schools when Burns worked for that district. Judge Dick Ambrose barred discussion of that investigation in the Cleveland trial.

Burns' trial began Monday and is expected to carry over into next week.



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