Cleveland employee indicted for extortion and accepting bribes after he accepted below-market improvements on his property from a contractor seeking city business and directed city projects to benefit himself, his outside businesses and his clients
A City of Cleveland employee was indicted for extortion, accepting bribes and other crimes after he accepted below-market improvements on his property from a contractor seeking city business and directed city projects to benefit himself, his outside businesses, and his clients.
Khalil Ewais, 43, of Cleveland, was indicted on charges including Hobbs Act extortion, receipt of a bribe, federal program theft, making false statements and filing false tax returns.
His brother Abdeljawad Ewais, 45, of Cleveland, was charged with filing false tax returns.
According to a 14-count indictment unsealed in federal court:
Ewais worked in the Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects as the section chief of construction in the division of engineering and construction. He oversaw construction inspectors who inspect work on the city’s roads, bridges and sidewalks. He had a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the city and its citizens.
Ewais also owned and operated Pioneer Engineering, a private engineering and consulting business that did work for private clients. He also, along with Abedeljawad Ewais and other family members, owned commercial and residential rental properties in and around Cleveland.
Company 1 bid on jobs with the City of Cleveland. In April 2015, it was awarded a contract to perform most of the resurfacing of residential streets in certain wards of Cleveland for two years. Company 1 bid approximately $5.8 million for the work.
Khalil Ewais, in his job with the city, had input into whether Company 1 received additional contracts from the city. Company 1 could not receive payment for the work it did until Ewais certified it was done appropriately. He could also direct Company 1 to complete “corrective work” which would cost the company additional time and money. He could also use his official position to help Company 1 obtain faster payment for its services.
Ewais in August 2016 contacted multiple companies, including Company 1, about paving the parking lot adjacent to Captain’s Grill, a property at 6104 Storer Ave. that he and his brother owned. Quotes for the work ranged from $48,923 to $59,152.
Ewais contacted an owner of Company 1 on August 10, 2016, about the estimate for the parking lot and said “I need it to be in the $25K range.” The owner quickly responded, “I will do the job for a lump sum of $26,000.”
Company 1 was busy performing larger jobs for the city at the time, and so hired subcontractors to complete the work at Ewais’s parking lot.
While doing the work, the subcontractor learned the connection between the parking lot and the sewer was damaged and would need to be replaced. Ewais used his position to categorize that work as repair work for the city.
Ewais also used his official position to cause the city to pay to repave most of the short public alleyway next to the parking lot, West 62nd Place. Around Oct. 25, 2016, Company 1— at the direction of Ewais — instructed a subcontractor to expand the scope of its work on the parking lot job to include milling and paving the part of West 62nd Place that adjoined the parking lot, but not the short additional distance to reach the home at the end of the alleyway.
The work was completed on Nov. 5, 2016, with the parking lot connected to West 62nd Place. Company 1 spent approximately $81,534 to complete the work. Ewais paid $31,336 for the work and Company 1 did not request any further payment.
In designating the portion West 62nd Place adjoining his property to be repaved, Ewais avoided the established process for selecting streets to be resurfaced. The city, through a contractor, had sought to rate the condition of all the streets in Cleveland leading up to the 2016 resurfacing program. The city’s pavement management group, which included Ewais, met to discuss the lowest-rated streets in each ward to recommend to the City Council members which streets to include as part of the resurfacing program. The list of streets to be resurfaced never included West 62nd Place, which never even received a rating in the evaluation process.
Ewais, on his own accord, created a task order for resurfacing West 62nd Place around October 2016. It had an estimated cost of $9,363.70, to be paid to Company 1 under its contract with the city. He also created a task order for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps at the corners of West 62nd Place and Storer Avenue, at an estimated cost of $5,898, to be paid to another contractor. Ewais on Oct. 28, 2016, sent Company 1 a copy of the resurfacing task order to indicate Company 1 should repave West 62nd Street under its city contract.
Also in 2016, Ewais had a private client through Pioneer Engineering. Ewais used his position with the city to change the Lorain Avenue Rehabilitation plans to create a parking pull-off lane sought by his client. The cost to the city was approximately $10,000.
In 2017, Ewais agreed to help another client get additional street parking off Melbourne Avenue. This would require moving a utility pole, which the client would be billed for if the move were part of a private project. But the utility company would pay the cost of moving the pole if it were part of a public City of Cleveland project.
In order to ensure his private client would not be billed for moving the pole, Ewais contacted the utility company from his City of Cleveland email address. He used his official position and title and made false and misleading statements that were intended to, and did, mislead representatives of the utility to believe that moving the pole to create a parking pull-off was a public project.
Ewais sent an email from his city email address to an employee of the public utility and others on June 13, 2017. The email subject was: “Pole Place[d] Incorrectly in the Public R/W [Right of Way]. The email stated: “The City has been working with the Developer at the above address for over a year to renovate this building and bring in some new tenants. There is a plan to implement a pull off lane off Melbourne Avenue to accommodate some parking requirements.” It also stated the utility had “placed a pole in the middle of the proposed parking area” and that “[t]his pole will need to be relocated so as not to hamper this improvement.”
Both Khalil and Abdeljawad Ewais also filed numerous false tax returns in which they failed to report rental income.
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said: “Public service is a privilege, not a license to get preferential treatment and discounted improvements. This defendant used his job at City Hall to benefit himself and put his personal interests ahead of the people of Cleveland he was supposed to be serving.”
“Our tax-paying citizens are entitled to decisions based on the best interests of the public, not the best interests of corrupt government employees who want to financially benefit themselves,” FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Hughes said. “The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney's Office to ensure those who violate the public trust are held accountable.”
“Today’s indictment serves as a reminder that no matter the source of income, taxpayers, and especially government employees have an obligation to the American public to pay their fair share of income taxes,” said Ryan Korner, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Cincinnati Field Office. “Bringing to justice those who abscond from their tax liabilities has been and will continue to be a top priority.”
“The charges disclosed today prove our continuing resolve to root out fraud and corruption in all forms,” said Brad Geary, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General. “It is our continuing core mission to work with our federal 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 personally benefit from taxpayer-funded grants.”
If convicted, the defendant's sentence will be determined by the Court after reviewing 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.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General and the Cleveland Division of Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chelsea S. Rice and Elliot Morrison.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The burden of proof is always on the government to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.