December 19, 2014

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Cuyahoga prosecutors defend Prudoff indictment

Prudoff

Prudoff

Cuyahoga County prosecutors are defending their decision to indict former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff on state corruption charges even as he serves out the remainder of a two-year federal prison sentence.

Prudoff’s attorney, John Ricotta, had accused prosecutors of improperly targeting his client in court documents asking for the charges against Prudoff to be dropped last year.

Among the allegations leveled by Ricotta was that Prudoff was indicted on the state charges because he refused to cooperate with investigators in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, who are pursuing investigations similar to the federal corruption probe that led to dozens of elected officials, government employees and vendors being convicted of crimes.

Ricotta also said that others, who he didn’t name, weren’t charged after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Christopher Schroeder wrote last month that it wasn’t improper to consider Prudoff’s decision not to cooperate when deciding whether to indict him.

“Federal courts have repeatedly held that a defendant’s willingness or unwillingness to cooperate with an investigation is a permissible consideration in a prosecutor’s charging decision,” Schroeder wrote.

Prudoff was free to either cooperate or reject an offer to talk to investigators, he wrote.

“Prosecutors routinely offer co-conspirators involved in the crime the opportunity to cooperate prior to making a charging decision,” Schroeder wrote. “The mere fact that Prudoff received such an offer, declined and was then indicted, does not by itself raise the specter of a selective prosecution based on the exercise of constitutional right.”

The allegations against Prudoff center on the influence he allegedly wielded to convince former Lorain Mayor Craig Foltin, identified in court documents as “Public Official Number 1” to hire the law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease. The firm has since agreed to pay Lorain a $3 million settlement to head of a lawsuit the city had considered filing.

Anthony Calabrese III, a former Vorys lawyer and Prudoff’s co-defendant in the case, paid Prudoff bribes through a Cleveland halfway house in exchange for helping him land legal work with Lorain. The payments were made to Prudoff under the guise of consulting fees, but the federal investigation concluded that he did little or no work to justify the $164,000 in payments.

Prudoff pled out to federal charges in connection with those crimes as well as not paying taxes on the money and lying to the FBI. Calabrese has pleaded guilty to both federal and state charges in the case and is serving a nine-year prison sentence.

Ricotta also has questioned whether the state charges fall outside the six-year statute of limitations because the last criminal act Prudoff is accused of committing took place Feb. 26, 2006.

But Schroeder argued that the law allows people accused of being involved in criminal conspiracies to be charged six years after the criminal enterprise ends. According to prosecutors, the conspiracy ended Dec. 31, 2008, which would fall within the six-year limit for charging Prudoff.

Schroeder also rejected a suggestion from Ricotta that prosecutors had improperly delayed charging Prudoff. Ricotta had argued that had the charges been brought sooner, Prudoff might have been able to work a deal to resolve both the state and federal charges at the same time.

Charging Prudoff, who has almost completed his federal prison term, a second time “is manifestly unfair,” Ricotta wrote.

Schroeder wrote Prudoff isn’t actually harmed by the delay in bringing the state charges and contended there was a legitimate reason to wait.

“The State did not want to interfere in an ongoing investigation by the federal government and felt that it could take no action against Prudoff or any other federal targets until their federal cases were concluded,” he wrote. “It is for that reason alone that the State did not initiate criminal proceedings against Prudoff or his co-defendant Anthony Calabrese until after the final resolution of the federal case.”

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