ELYRIA — An appeals court has partially overturned the conviction of former Lorain County Commissioner Michael Ross on public corruption charges.
Ross, who served four years as a commissioner in the late 1990s, is currently serving a 9½-year prison sentence after he was convicted by a jury in 2009 of charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, money laundering, bribery, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and failure to file a tax return.
The 9th District Court of Appeals decision, made public today, said that although Ross was convicted and sentenced on the engaging in pattern of corrupt activity as a first-degree felony and conspiracy charges as second-degree felonies, the charges should have been at a lower level.
The verdict forms for those charges — which constitute three of the 19 charges Ross was found guilty of — didn’t contain the necessary information that would have allowed them to be at or near the highest levels of the offense, the appeals court wrote.
Without the required information, the decision said, the law requires that Ross be convicted of the lowest form of the offense. In the case of the corrupt activity charge that would be a second-degree felony, while in the case of the conspiracy charges it would be a first-degree misdemeanor.
The appeals court ordered the case sent back to Visiting Judge Judith Cross, who presided over the trial and sentenced Ross, to impose a new sentence on Ross.
The appeals court also said that the new sentence must take into account whether Ross was sentenced for different charges he was convicted of that dealt with the same alleged criminal violations.
Ross has long maintained that he had done nothing illegal, although prosecutors argued during the trial that he had accepted $582,782 in bribes to steer contracts for the Lorain County Justice Center. Several contractors and businessmen who were accused of bribing Ross took plea deals in the case and testified against the former commissioner during his trial.
Read Tuesday’s Chronicle for more on this story.