Employee of Cleveland nonprofit charged for bribe conspiracy
An employee of a nonprofit that served Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard neighborhood was charged with conspiring with a businessman to bribe a city employee in order to receive payment from a $25,000 city grant despite the project’s failure to achieve the equal opportunity employment goals required by the grant agreement, said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland office.
Lawrence Payten, 57, of Cleveland, was charged via criminal information with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud.
Payten worked at a nonprofit community organization that promoted commercial development in Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard neighborhood. Lejon C. Woods worked as a contract compliance officer in the City of Cleveland’s Office of Equal Opportunity. Woods previously pleaded guilty to receiving bribes from three other businesses.
Between November 2009 and August 2010, Payten and Woods accepted cash bribes from a businessman identified in the charges as “Co-Conspirator 1”. This person was a businessman who worked with Payten to locate land in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood to build a retail food and beverage business, according to the information.
The businessman and the City of Cleveland entered into Neighborhood Capital Funds Grant Agreement. The city awards funds for certain construction or rehabilitation projects and the recipients are subject to certain hiring goals. In this project, the Office of Equal Opportunity set a subcontractor participation goal of 15 percent for minority business enterprises, 7 percent for female business enterprises and 8 percent for Cleveland Area Small Businesses, according to the information.
Payten, Woods and the businessman met at City Hall in November 2009. Payten and the businessman told Woods that the businessman was not going to meet the OEO subcontractor guidelines and asked Woods to help them cover up the lack of compliance so the businessman could still receive the $25,000 Neighborhood Capital Funds disbursement, according to the information.
About two weeks later, Woods met with Payten and the businessman, in which the businessman paid Woods $1,500, promised Woods an additional $1,500 and promised Payten $2,500 for facilitating the arrangement between Woods and the businessman, according to the information.
Woods then falsified the OEO compliance documents relating to the construction project. On August 20 2010, the businessman received a NCF grant check for $25,000. Four days later, the businessman gave Woods the additional $1,500, according to the information.
“These rules were put in place to extend opportunity to other businesses, but Payten and his co-conspirators put their own financial gain above the rules,” Dettelbach said.
“Bribing a public official to fabricate numbers in order to avoid minority mandate requirements is never acceptable,” Anthony said. “The FBI will continue efforts to root out those that attempt to skirt the law by paying off an official.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Hollingsworth and Henry F. DeBaggis following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
If convicted, the defendants’ sentences will be determined by the court after a review of the federal sentencing guidelines and factors unique to the case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record (if any), the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation.
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.