July 23, 2014

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Former attorney pleads guilty in corruption case

Prudoff

Calabrese

Anthony Calabrese III, a former attorney for a law firm that did business with the city of Lorain, pleaded guilty Tuesday to 18 of 20 federal charges, including racketeering and conspiracy, that he faced in the Cuyahoga County corruption investigation.

Calabrese, 40, was first indicted in September 2011 along with former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff, who already has pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is serving a two-year term in federal prison.

So far the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which became public in 2008, has led to dozens of former public officials, including former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, contractors and others being convicted.

Calabrese, who used to work for Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease law firm, faces prison time in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced June 20, according to federal court records.

According to the indictment and Prudoff’s plea deal, Calabrese used his position as an attorney for a Cleveland halfway house known as Alternatives Agency to hire Prudoff and others, including former Lakewood Mayor Anthony Sinagra, as consultants. Those consultants did little or no work to justify their fees, according to prosecutors.

Prudoff, for instance, was supposed to be searching for a location in Lorain County for Alternatives. According to prosecutors, he and a man matching the description of William Wells, the son of Prudoff’s longtime girlfriend, received $144,000 from the halfway house over the years despite doing nothing to earn the money.

Wells was never charged in the case and, as part of his plea bargain, Prudoff agreed to pay back the $144,000 in addition to back taxes and penalties. Prudoff was placed on leave in September 2009 after city officials in Lorain learned he was a target in the corruption investigation. He retired a few weeks later.

Although prosecutors have never spelled out what Calabrese received from Prudoff in exchange for the consulting contract, Prudoff’s plea deal did note that one of the factors considered by Vorys in reviewing its attorneys was their “ability to obtain and retain clients.”

The law firm did more than $1.6 million in business with the city of Lorain, much of it for the department Prudoff ran, over the years.

One of the dismissed charges against Calabrese also centered on the phantom Lorain County halfway house project because of discussions Calabrese and others had about a relative who was on an unnamed company’s payroll. Calabrese and his fellow conspirators agreed to lie and say she was working on the Lorain project out of her home.

But Calabrese’s alleged corruption went further than convincing Alternatives to hire consultants, according to the indictment.

He also worked with J. Kevin Kelley, a key figure in the corruption case, and another Alternatives consultant to help the halfway house restore funding that Cuyahoga County officials planned to cut.

Alternatives executives paid for Dimora, former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo and others to take a now-infamous junket to Las Vegas in April 2008 and gave them other benefits, according to court documents. Kelley and Calabrese helped set up those bribes.

Calabrese also used his position to help Alternatives obtain tax-exempt status on property it owned and received payments from a business involved in the deal as well.

He also bribed Russo to lower the value of the Indian Hills Senior Community Center in Euclid by $24 million, court documents said.

The indictment also accused Calabrese of helping people to whom he was connected facilitate corrupt deals through Parma Schools, where Kelley served on the school board and on Cuyahoga County’s geographic information system project.

Despite his plea to the federal charges, Calabrese’s legal troubles aren’t over.

He is facing unrelated charges in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in which he and two other lawyers are accused of trying to bribe victims in a rape case. Calabrese has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

The city of Lorain also has hired a law firm to examine old deals for signs of corruption, including the money that was paid to the Vorys law firm where Calabrese once worked.

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