September 16, 2014

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Lorain official could face punishment over contracts

LORAIN — City officials are weighing whether Lorain Community Development Renewal Administrator Howard Goldberg should face disciplinary action for allowing no-bid demolition contracts.

Goldberg

Goldberg remains on the job while his role in the contracts, many of which went to Lorain contractor Don E. Buchs, is examined.

The U.S. Department of Justice has accused the city of awarding 11 demolition contracts, valued at $164,675, to Buchs between April 2005 and March 2008 without putting them out for competitive bid.

Lorain Law Director Pat Riley has said the city could potentially have to pay up to $615,025 in restitution, fines and damages if the Justice Department sues the city and wins. He said Monday that negotiations with the federal government are ongoing.

The federal government contends that because the money for the projects came from Community Development Block Grant and Home Grant funds, the city was required to put the contracts out for bid.

Goldberg handled many of those contracts, according to city records.

For instance, during a March 4, 2008, Board of Control meeting, Goldberg readily admitted to then-Mayor Tony Krasienko that he never sought an additional quote for the $5,970 demolition of 1784 E. 29th St.

Krasienko and then-Safety Service Director Robert Gilchrist, the lone members of the board at the time, voted to approve giving the contract to Buchs anyway, minutes of the meeting showed. They approved a second $6,200 contract for Buchs that federal officials also have raised questions about during the same meeting.

In a Nov. 9 email to city officials, Goldberg’s attorney, Zachary Simonoff, wrote that his client was acting on the orders of then-Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff when he worked to award the no-bid contracts to Buchs.

“The no bid contracts that Mr. Goldberg issued were at the direction of Prudoff and its Mr. Goldberg’s contention that (then-) Safety Service Director (Craig) Miller and possibly (then-) Mayor (Craig) Foltin were aware of them,” Simonoff wrote. “Mr. Goldberg received nothing from Buchs or Prudoff with the exception of abuse and threats from Prudoff.”

Prudoff is serving a two-year prison term after pleading guilty earlier this year to federal charges he was paid as a consultant by a Cleveland halfway house for work he never did. He retired from the city after being placed on leave in September 2009 after city officials were told he was a target in the ongoing Cuyahoga County corruption investigation.

Simonoff, who declined additional comment Monday, wrote in his email that Goldberg feared that “if he blew the whistle,” he would have been retaliated against and lose his job whether or not any allegation he leveled against Prudoff was believed.

Simonoff also wrote that Goldberg wouldn’t have received any better treatment from the Krasienko administration. He wrote that Goldberg has “provided Mr. Riley with info regarding Mayor Krasienko,” although what that information is hasn’t been publicly disclosed.

Once Prudoff was gone, Simonoff wrote, Goldberg sought a meeting with the FBI and has cooperated with the ongoing federal investigation and the Lorain Police Department’s current probe into corruption at city hall. Goldberg also testified before a federal grand jury, according to Simonoff’s email.

The city also has hired a law firm to examine whether it can sue to recover money spent on projects tainted by public corruption.

In his email, Simonoff suggested that Goldberg is willing to accept a 60-day suspension, a demotion or being allowed to retire in March 2013.

Buchs’ attorney, Mike Duff, has said Lorain police are pressuring his client to provide incriminating evidence against Prudoff as part of the local investigation. He said he was disappointed to learn Goldberg implicated Buchs in wrongdoing.

“I’m disappointed that Howard would tell fairy tales about Don E. Buchs,” Duff said. “If he’s saying Don E. did anything illegal, it’s a fairy tale.”

Assistant Lorain Law Director R.J. Budway said the city’s health and building departments have each asked city lawyers to review whether Buchs had violated regulations against illegal dumping on property he owns on Old Lake Road and the former Stoveworks property. Police, city officials and investigators from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency searched both properties in June.

Duff said Buchs has since cleaned up the properties and wants to schedule a time for city inspections.

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