ELYRIA — The most recent criminal charges against Bill Desvari, Lorain’s former chief building official, center on his dealings with a Cleveland attorney and Lorain businessman Jon Veard, Desvari’s attorney said Friday.
Brent English said he believes prosecutors are trying to tie bribery charges to his client through a $5,000 loan Veard made to Desvari in 2005. In return for the loan, English said prosecutors suspect that Desvari allowed Veard to remove a fire escape from the Antlers Apartments on Washington Avenue.
The missing fire escape would later trap six people on the roof when the building caught fire in December 2007. Firefighters managed to get the residents off the roof, but the missing fire escape touched off an investigation into why the fire escape wasn’t there.
But English said prosecutors are off-base with their suspicions. The fire escape was removed in the summer of 2007, well after Veard made the loan to Desvari, he said.
After the fire, Desvari said that he had given permission for Veard, owner of United Property Management, to remove the ladder because the building had enough fire exits. He also said he told Veard in a letter he needed to pull a demolition permit to remove the ladder, something Veard never did.
At the time, city officials said Veard, who could not be reached for comment Friday, told them he didn’t get a permit because he was under the impression that the other constructions permit he had for work on the apartments covered the ladder’s removal.
English said the problem was the fire escape wasn’t legal and that there never should have been an exit onto the roof of the apartment building. Desvari, he said, told Veard what he needed to do to correct the problem.
State investigators later determined that the ladder should never have been removed under the city’s building and fire codes.
Desvari wasn’t punished as a result of the fire escape issue, but he was suspended in February 2008 after police began investigating after complaints surfaced about homes in the King’s Woods subdivision.
Desvari, who retired shortly after his suspension, was indicted in July 2008 on bribery and dereliction of duty charges that court documents said stem from work that Lorain cement contractor James McAfee did on Desvari’s Columbia Township home between 2004 and 2007. In exchange for the work, court documents said Desvari looked the other way while McAfee did work in the city without a license.
Desvari also has been accused in court documents of failing to seek permits and complete inspections on homes built in the New Century Village residential project.
English also said that the latest charges against Desvari, handed down against him and his company, Desvar Company Inc., in the past two weeks also involve Cleveland attorney Georg Abakumov, a long-time friend of Desvari.
Desvari purchased a lawn tractor from a neighbor in 2006 for about $5,000 with the help of Abakumov, English said. But he also said that Desvari long ago repaid Abakumov, although he is still in the process of repaying Veard.
He said he doesn’t know what prosecutors believe Abakumov got in exchange for helping Desvari buy a tractor. Abakumov did not return a call seeking comment.
Desvari did say that Abakumov owns the former Westgate Shopping Center in Lorain, but isn’t certain if that has anything to do with prosecutor’s suspicions.
English said Desvari intends to fight the charges and he also doubts that McAfee, Veard and Abakumov will face charges in the case.
“They didn’t give any bribes and they didn’t receive any bribes,” he said.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will declined to comment on the case because it is an ongoing investigation.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.