Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul's Contracts Studied for Links to Campaign Donations

Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul’s Contracts Studied for Links to Campaign Donations

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

CUYAHOGA COUNTY — State officials are investigating $34 million worth of contracts handed out by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office since 2004 and whether vendors had to contribute to former Sheriff Gerald McFaul’s campaign fund to get them, according to interviews and a subpoena obtained by The Plain Dealer.

State agents investigating possible misconduct by McFaul recently requested records for vendor payment logs, according to the subpoena. Sheriff’s employees turned over about 2,000 pages of records detailing how McFaul distributed $33.6 million to vendors from January 2004 through April.

In the same period, McFaul raised more than $200,000 through his annual clambake fund-raiser. Scores of company representatives had made multiple donations to McFaul since 2004. The yearly donations ranged from $300 to $1,000.

State agents declined to say which specific companies or donations they are investigating. McFaul, through a representative, declined to comment. Numerous vendors did not return phone calls.

McFaul held his clambake every autumn for nearly 30 years. A review of McFaul’s campaign records shows the people who donated the most were people who were paid for work approved by the long-serving sheriff.

The biggest donors were real estate appraisers who earned between $55,000 and $85,000. Many of them worked only a few days a week doing quick appraisals of foreclosed properties across the county. The vendors or their representatives were the second-highest group of contributors.

McFaul resigned as sheriff in March. The details about the pay-to-play allegations are the latest of many revelations that have emerged from a Plain Dealer investigation into how McFaul conducted business during his 32-year tenure in office.

The revelations are part of a state investigation into possible misconduct by McFaul while he was in office. The newspaper has detailed how he and his staff required workers to raise money for the sheriff’s election campaigns and how workers were expected to stuff birthday and Christmas cards with cash for McFaul.

Current and former employees at the Sheriff’s Office are cooperating with detectives about how McFaul ran the operation, according to sources who have met with investigators.

The county’s elected leadership also is facing a crisis that revolves, in part, around separate allegations of patronage and pay-to-play government: County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Auditor Frank Russo are under federal investigation for possibly accepting gifts and favors in exchange for county jobs, according to federal court records.

Although McFaul rarely worked in his office the last several years, he remained in daily contact with his chief of staff, Patricia Kresty, on most financial decisions, sources close to McFaul said.

D&G Uniforms of Akron sold about $14,000 in SWAT equipment to the Sheriff’s Office in recent years. Owner Barbara Limbert bought $900 worth of clambake tickets after a sheriff’s captain or chief deputy mentioned the event.

Limbert said she deals with hundreds of police departments and frequently donates to events sponsored by police.

“I never felt pressured in any way,” she said about McFaul’s cohorts. “I support the people who support me.”

The County Jail operations consume about 85 percent of the Sheriff’s Office budget. McFaul and Kresty did not allow jail wardens to approve any purchase in the correction center, a high-ranking jail source said.

Medical expenses, food and cleaning supplies are some of the highest expenditures for the jail.

The county awarded Midwest Medical Staffing Inc. of Parma a two-year, $3.4 million contract in December to supply doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals to the County Jail. The company has been in charge of medical care at the jail since 1996.

Owner Earlene McGonegal has donated about $2,000 to McFaul since 2004. She did not return a call seeking comment.

B&J Distributors Inc. of Brook Park has received $970,326 for jail cleaning supplies since 2004. Company representatives donated nearly $2,000 to McFaul. A woman who answered the phone at the company refused to discuss the donations and twice hung up the phone.

Taylor Road Discount Co., based in Cleveland Heights, has sold about $2.4 million worth of food and other items to the office since 2004. The company founder donated about $2,500 to McFaul.

Joseph Desatnik took over the company recently after his grandfather died in February. He said he cut ties with the Sheriff’s Office because the bid process became cumbersome and because the office took too long to pay its bills.

Catherine Turcer of the watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action said pay-to-play politics goes on throughout the state but is difficult to investigate.

Investigators will have to determine if the donations were given as a genuine expression of political support or as a bribe, she said.

“It’s always about connecting the dots and looking at patterns,” Turcer said. “Is there other ways money was getting to the sheriff?”

Mark Puente, Plain Dealer Reporter, May 25, 2009.