CLEVELAND — Elyria businessman Larry Jones was sentenced Monday to 37 months in a federal prison for stealing nearly $2 million in bank loans to keep his computer business afloat.
Jones pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering charges last year.
He is cooperating with federal investigators and Lorain County officials probing a bribery scheme allegedly involving Jones and former county Commissioner Michael Ross in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping 35 other similar charges against him and allowing him to serve a reduced sentence.
Jones, 58, apologized for what prosecutors described as a “check-kiting scheme” that netted him $1.95 million that he used to keep the doors of Erie Shores Computers Inc. open. Jones must repay the money he stole, according to court paperwork.
Jones must report to begin serving his sentence on Dec. 17.
“It came down to making some business decisions that took me down after 30 years and took my family down,” Jones told U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin before he was sentenced.
According to court documents, Jones took out a credit line from National City Bank, hiding the poor financial condition of his company when he did so. Jones also hid business losses by transferring money from one account to another and providing fake business documents to the bank.
Jones’ attorney, Larry Zuckerman, said his client didn’t use the money he stole for his own gain but for payroll and other business costs. Beyond that, he said, Jones led a model life, playing football for one year for the Dallas Cowboys before an injury forced him into the steel business, after which he founded Erie Shores in 1983.
Jones also was actively involved in community activities, Zuckerman said.
Erie Shores did well, primarily through government contracts, until around 2001, when it began to struggle. That forced Jones, Zuckerman said, to turn to bank fraud in desperation to keep his business operating.
Jones said he knew he violated the law and business ethics and hopes to help others learn from his example.
Jones still faces a multitude of charges in Lorain County, stemming from his involvement with Ross in the late 1990s.
The pair allegedly worked together to enrich themselves using Ross’ position, including the sale of the former JCPenney building in downtown Elyria that Jones sold to the county for $400,000, just months after purchasing it for $250,000.
Jones also faces allegations that he helped funnel county money to Ross from the construction of the Lorain County Justice Center.
Jones is slated to accept a plea bargain on those charges later this month, Zuckerman said. He is the second of those charged in the Ross case to agree to testify against the former commissioner and disbarred attorney.
Randall Gordon, the former president of the architecture firm that designed the justice center, already has cooperated and is serving a prison sentence.Along with Ross, another architect, Warren Finkel, as well as Vincent Carbone, president of the Cleveland construction company that oversaw the building of the justice center, still face charges in the case.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.