Business owner indicted for paying cash bribes to Cleveland demolition employee
The owner of an asbestos removal and demolition business was indicted for paying cash bribes to a Cleveland employee in return for confidential information and preferential treatment regarding jobs for the city.
Eric Witherspoon, 55, of Warrensville Heights, was indicted on two counts of bribery and seven counts of honest services wire fraud.
According to the nine-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court:
Witherspoon owned and operated Arick’s Environmental Services, Inc. and Arick’s Services, which were asbestos removal and demolition businesses operating in Cleveland. Witherspoon submitted bids to the city of Cleveland in an attempt to obtain contracts for abatement and demolition work on behalf of the city.
Rufus Taylor was employed as Cleveland’s Chief of the Demolition Bureau. Taylor was responsible for assigning “board-ups” to contractors for vacant and abandoned properties in Cleveland, as well as locating contractors for and assigning emergency demolition jobs. He was also responsible for advising other city officials on which contractors should be solicited for bids and conducting inspections, which had to be completed before a contractor would be paid.
Witherspoon conspired with Taylor between November 2013 through September 2017. This included the two of them meeting at restaurants, job sites and parked cars in which Witherspoon paid cash to Taylor. In return, Taylor provided confidential information and advice about potential board-up and demolition jobs in Cleveland. Taylor also provided assistance to Witherspoon in assuring the jobs he worked on would be inspected quickly.
The two men met in November 2013 to discuss a demolition job at 887 Parkwood Drive. Witherspoon promised to pay Taylor $8,000 in exchange for Taylor getting Witherspoon on the bid list. Cleveland awarded Witherspoon the contract and he paid Taylor $8,000.
Taylor in October 2015 notified Witherspoon about an emergency demolition job on East 123rd Street and 1885 Coltman Ave. Witherspoon agreed to pay Taylor $12,000 in exchange for notifying him about the job.
Witherspoon was paid $94,640 by the city for work done at the location, but for reasons beyond Taylor’s control, Witherspoon’s business was not awarded the full contract and he never paid Taylor the full $12,000.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations.
It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea S. Rice and Elliot Morrison.
If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant's role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.
A charge is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.