Thursday, June 7, 2012

FBI, IRS investigated Dimora, Kelley, payment to Staubach Co. over Ameritrust Tower purchase

The FBI and IRS investigated whether Cuyahoga County officials received bribes for their decisions on the ill-fated Ameritrust Tower project, a prosecutors' filing revealed today.

Among the details alleged in the filing: Anthony O. Calabrese III -- an attorney for The Staubach Co., the county's real estate consultant -- asked county employee J. Kevin Kelley to lobby Jimmy Dimora to buy the Ameritrust complex.  Calabrese, who represented Staubach in contract negotiations with the county, promised to reward Kelley if the county purchased the complex.

And in October 2005, soon after the county bought the Ameritrust Tower and paid Staubach $2.6 million for its consulting work, Kelley and a company with a tie to Calabrese both received five-figure payments as part of an unidentified series of financial transactions.  The FBI and IRS investigated whether any money from Staubach was "funneled through others for the ultimate benefit of public officials," the prosecutor's filing said.

The new information is part of a superceding indictment of Calabrese, who's scheduled for a September trial on corruption charges.

However, the filing is also significant for what it does not say.  It doesn't assert that Kelley actually lobbied Dimora, or that Dimora received anything of value for his Ameritrust decisions, or that any of the Staubach money actually went indirectly to public officials, or that the Staubach Co. was aware of what Calabrese was allegedly doing.

Staubach isn't named in the Calabrese indictment, but the company is easily identifiable from details. (Only one "global real estate advisory firm" got paid $2.6 million "related to the Ameritrust project" in fall 2005.) The company had recommended that the county lease, not buy, the Ameritrust Tower as a headquarters site. Its contract called for it to be paid more than $4 million if a deal on a property it recommended was completed.  That $4 million-plus was later negotiated down to a $2.6 million.

Rob Roe, who was managing partner of Staubach (now part of Jones Lang LaSalle), told me in April that nothing about Calabrese’s conduct while representing him appeared improper or gave him pause, and that Calabrese never talked about using any connections in county government to help with the contract.

Calabrese faces only one charge related to the Ameritrust Tower investigation: tampering with a witness or informant.

The indictment alleges that, a week or two after the July 2008 FBI corruption investigation raids, Calabrese met Kelley in downtown Cleveland. They went from a hotel lobby to the 21st floor of the Justice Center, the filing charges, where they talked in a place overseen by someone they could trust: then-judge Bridget McCafferty's jury deliberation room.  The charge alleges that Calabrese talked about the county corruption investigation and a Business 57, which had given Kelley $70,000 three years earlier.  Calabrese made false statements to Kelley, the charge says.

The new charge, Count 20 in today's indictment, explains a lot of the buzz around the Ameritrust Tower lately.  It reveals some of what the FBI was investigating in 2007 and 2008 (previous clues appeared in Judge Sara Lioi's late December opinion).

It also shows that county executive Ed FitzGerald's decision to investigate the Ameritrust Tower purchase, the Staubach contract, and Calabrese's relationship to it isn't just based on idle suspicion.  Judging by what he and top aides told me earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney has been communicating with him and county inspector general Nailah Byrd about the Ameritrust Tower's place in the corruption investigation.

The Calabrese indictment also contains a cameo appearance by Tim Hagan, aka Public Official 10, but it's one Hagan might find flattering: "PO10 [Hagan] questioned the County contracting with Business 55 [Staubach]. Despite PO10's concerns, the County awarded Business 55 an approximately $3 million contract related to the Ameritrust purchase and transition." (Mostly true, except the contract was signed before Hagan took office.)

Here are some links to my previous reporting about the Staubach contract and FitzGerald's Ameritrust investigations:

"How the county spent $3 million on Staubach’s Ameritrust contract," April 30

"How Hagan and Co. cut Staubach loose from Ameritrust deal," May 1

"Two county investigations of Ameritrust Tower underway since December; feds cooperating," March 16

"Can FitzGerald sue Staubach over Ameritrust Tower?" March 23

"FBI investigated failed Ameritrust Tower sale, asbestos contract," Dec. 29


(photo from clevelandskyscrapers.com)

1 comment:

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