April 16, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
33°F
test

Lorain official resigns amid probe

LORAIN — Howard Goldberg, the city’s community development renewal administrator, has resigned amid an ongoing investigation into his role in allowing the city to sign no-bid demolition contracts.

Goldberg

Lorain Safety Service Director Robert Fowler confirmed Monday that Goldberg sent his resignation letter last week. The resignation takes effect Friday.

Goldberg’s departure will end an administrative review that could have resulted in disciplinary action, Fowler said. He said no decision had been made about what punishment Goldberg would have faced because he was still waiting for more information when Goldberg resigned.

At the heart of the investigation are 11 demolition contracts, valued at $164,675, that were awarded to Lorain contractor Don E. Buchs between April 2005 and March 2008.

Buchs’ attorney, Mike Duff, has insisted his client did nothing wrong and has said Lorain police are leaning on Buchs to get additional evidence against former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff.

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to sue the city over the contracts that were paid for with money from Community Development Block Grants and Home Grant funds. Federal regulations required that the contracts be put out for bid, but the feds contend that never happened with the projects in question.

Goldberg was involved in shepherding many of those contracts through the approval process, including pitching them to the city’s Board of Control, which has the authority to approve contracts up to $25,000 without going to City Council.

Lorain Law Director Pat Riley said Monday that the city is still waiting to hear from the Justice Department on a possible settlement. He has previously said the city could have to pay up to $615,025 in restitution, fines and damages if it fought a lawsuit in court and lost.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said although the investigation into Goldberg wasn’t complete, serious questions about his actions had surfaced.

Goldberg’s attorney had floated the idea of a suspension and a demotion for his client or allowing Goldberg to retire in March, when he became eligible to do so. Ritenauer said it wouldn’t have been proper to hold off on discipline so Goldberg could retire.

“Swift action doesn’t include, ‘I’m going to leave, but I’m going to stay on for three months,’ ” Ritenauer said.

All of the contracts were awarded during the tenure of Prudoff, who left his longtime job in 2009 after city officials learned he was a target in the ongoing Cuyahoga County corruption probe.

Prudoff is now serving a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges accusing him of being paid for work that he never did for a Cleveland halfway house.

Zachary Simonoff, Goldberg’s attorney, declined to comment on his client’s resignation Monday, but he previously defended Goldberg in a Nov. 9 email to city officials.

Goldberg was following Prudoff’s orders when he guided the no-bid contracts through city reviews, Simonoff wrote. The Board of Control, which consists of the mayor and safety-service director, approved the contracts.

Goldberg feared retaliation from Prudoff “if he blew the whistle,” Simonoff wrote.

After Prudoff had departed, Goldberg cooperated with the FBI and has testified before a federal grand jury, Simonoff wrote. He also has cooperated with the Lorain Police Department’s investigation into corruption at city hall.

Ritenauer said that probe continues to delve into Prudoff’s oversight of the Community Development Department.

Comparing the investigation to peeling an onion, Ritenauer said detectives and city officials continue to find problems with how Prudoff and others did business.

“We’re looking at many, many years of activity that in my mind shouldn’t be going on in city government,” Ritenauer said.

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