November 27, 2014

Elyria
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Ross claims political witch hunt

ELYRIA — Former county Commissioner Michael Ross is the victim of a political witch hunt, his attorney said in court documents filed Tuesday demanding that prosecutors return property they seized in a 2005 search of his Georgia home.

Ross’ attorney, Michael Nelson Sr., also said prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to use the evidence they gathered against Ross when he goes to trial later this year on corruption, bribery and theft charges because investigators used questionable reasons to obtain the search warrant.

“This is a fiction created to give them access to snatch all the financial records,” Nelson said.

The affidavit used to get the search warrant that led to the search — and drug charges against Ross in Georgia that ultimately were dropped — was supposed to center on allegations by a former Ross employee that he had stolen her identity. But, Nelson said, Ross has never been charged with a crime in connection with the woman.

Instead, Nelson said, it’s more likely that former Ross business associate Larry Jones, who is also facing charges in connection with the Ross case and awaiting sentencing on unrelated federal bank fraud charges, sold Ross out to save himself.

“Jones was trying to salvage his career and reduce his sentence,” Nelson said. “The conversation was ‘give us somebody and we’ll give you a break.’ ”

Ross left office at the end of 2000 after being defeated in his re-election bid, but prosecutors contend that during his four years in office he steered county business toward Jones — including manipulating who received contracts for the construction of the county Justice Center — and took kickbacks for his help.

He also is charged with bilking legal clients and cheating on his taxes.

Ross is scheduled to be sentenced Friday after being convicted earlier this year of failing to pay child support for two of his children, something he said he hopes to get continued so he can fight the other charges.

Ross also said he has moved back to Lorain County from Georgia so he can work to clear his name.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said Ross was not the target of a politically motivated prosecution.
“We don’t agree with him on that,” he said.

Jones, Will said, had nothing to do with the initial charges against Ross. Both men were indicted at the same time in 2005 and only later did Jones agree to help prosecutors secure further indictments against Ross in exchange for leniency.

Also charged in the case are Cleveland contractor Vincent Carbone, architect Warren Finkel and Randall Gordon, the former president of the firm that designed the justice center. Gordon has pleaded guilty and agreed to work with prosecutors, serve a six-month prison sentence. He also repaid $400,000 to the county.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.