Cleveland business owner sentenced to 15 months for bribing city demolition employee
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced today that Eric Witherspoon, 56, of Warrensville Heights, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Christopher A. Boyko to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine after Witherspoon pleaded guilty to bribery in federally funded programs.
“Public contracts should go to the most qualified, not the best connected,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “Public officials, contractors, or anyone else who misuses or improperly handless public funds can expect to find themselves in a similar position, that is to say, facing federal prison time.”
“This sentencing represents our continuing resolve to root out fraud and corruption in all forms, particularly when the programs involved should have been used to help our neediest families,” said HUD OIG Special Agent in Charge Brad Geary. “It is our continuing core mission to work with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to protect the integrity of our housing programs and to take strong action against those who seek to illegally benefit from them.”
According to court documents, Witherspoon owned and operated an asbestos removal and demolition businesses 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, who has also pleaded guilty to receiving bribes, was Cleveland’s Chief of the Demolition Bureau. Taylor’s responsibilities included locating contractors for and assigning emergency demolition jobs. In addition, he advised other city officials on which contractors should be solicited for bids and conducting inspections, which had to be completed before a contractor could be paid.
Witherspoon pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme in 2013 and 2014. This included the two of them meeting at restaurants, job sites and in parked cars. Witherspoon paid cash to Taylor, and, in return, Taylor provided confidential information and advice about potential board-up and demolition jobs in the city of Cleveland.
Taylor also provided assistance to Witherspoon in assuring the jobs he worked on would be inspected quickly.
In one instance, the two men met in November of 2013 to discuss a demolition job on Parkwood Drive. Witherspoon promised to pay Taylor in exchange for Taylor getting Witherspoon on the bid list. Witherspoon was awarded the contract and, in return, paid Taylor $3,000.00.
According to Court records, on the evening of February 9, 2017, the two men were recorded meeting in a parked vehicle to discuss their mutually beneficial relationship. They discussed their arrangement, whereby Taylor would receive a bribe payment from Witherspoon once Witherspoon received payment for a job that Taylor helped him obtain.
Later on in that conversation, the two discussed another instance in which Witherspoon had given Taylor $300.00, with Witherspoon acknowledging that Taylor “didn’t even ask [him] for that” bribe. After acknowledging that Witherspoon had paid Taylor $300.00 without Taylor even asking, Taylor noted that the payment was Witherspoon’s “appreciation” for Taylor, and Taylor had not complained about how much he received. Taylor noted that he had never complained about what “you put in my hand,” and Witherspoon acknowledged that was true.
Rufus Taylor pleaded guilty to extortion and bribery in a federally funded program on September 4, 2018. Taylor will be sentenced before Judge Christopher A. Boyko.
This case was investigated by agents with the Cleveland Division of FBI, Housing and Urban Development-OIG, and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chelsea S. Rice and Elliot Morrison.