ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Commissioner Michael Ross saw his prison sentence on public corruption charges cut from 9½ years to 9 years during a new sentencing hearing Friday.
Ross, 50, already has spent more than four years behind bars.
The Ohio 9th District Court of Appeals overturned Ross’s original sentence in 2012, saying he should have been convicted of lower forms of some of the charges a jury found him guilty of during a 2009 trial.
Ross was convicted of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, money laundering, bribery, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and failure to file tax returns.
Assistant County Prosecutor Dave Muhek had urged Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny to impose at least the original sentence handed down in 2009, saying that during his time in office Ross followed a “path of bribery and corruption.” Muhek said Ross’s crimes could even warrant a longer prison sentence.
Ross was convicted of taking bribes totaling $582,783 during the four years he served as a county commissioner. In exchange for the money, Ross steered contracts for the design and construction of the Lorain County Justice Center and other county businesses to Elyria businessman Larry Jones.
Although Jones pleaded guilty in the case and an unrelated federal bank fraud case, he has since made several unsuccessful efforts to claim he was wrongfully convicted. As part of his plea deal, Jones was among those involved in the kickback scheme who testified against Ross during his trial.
Ross’ then-attorney Michael Nelson argued during the trial that his client was targeted not because he committed any crime but because he is black, an accusation prosecutors have rejected. Ross still has a pending action in federal court seeking to have his conviction overturned.
On Friday, Ross said his time in prison has given him time to examine what happened to him as well as work to better himself and focus on his faith.
“I’m not bitter at all, I’m actually better,” Ross said. “…I’ve taken the time to reflect and to take account of the realities of the things that led me to prison in the first place.”
Ross also acknowledged he had let his family and the county down.
“I did acquire some positions of trust and certainly I fell short in some of those endeavors, your honor, and for that I regret,” he said.
Pokorny said he felt that Ross “exhibited genuine remorse” for his actions.
Ross has complained in previous court filings that despite the appeals court decision granting him a new sentencing hearing, it took two years before that hearing actually took place. It remains unclear why a hearing that had been scheduled for March 2012 never took place.
Ross still faces criminal charges for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from legal clients when he was still a practicing attorney. Following several reprimands over the years, the Ohio Supreme Court permanently disbarred Ross in 2005.
Ross’ attorney, Paul Griffin, has sought to have the additional charges, which have been pending since 2006, against his client dropped.
Muhek said Friday that prosecutors are reviewing the remaining charges against Ross and will make a determination about how to proceed before a hearing scheduled for May.