CLEVELAND — Editor's note: Video at the top of this story regarding the investigation was originally published on Jan. 13, 2021.
Longtime Cleveland City Councilman Kenneth Johnson has been indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges. The indictment against Johnson and two other associates was unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The FBI tells 3News Johnson has also been arrested.
His assistant, Garnell Jamison, and former head of the Buckeye Shaker Development Corp., John Hopkins, were also named in the 29-page indictment. The men face charges of:
- Conspiracy to commit federal program theft
- Federal program theft
- Aiding and assisting in the preparation of false returns
- Tampering with a witness
- Falsification of records in federal investigation
Read the indictment:
The charges come after this month’s guilty plea involving another city official.
Robert Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-employee of the City of Cleveland with close ties to Councilman Ken Johnson, pleaded guilty via video arraignment on a federal charge that he conspired to commit theft from a federal program. Fitzpatrick was charged in what is known as a bill of information in U.S. District Court, a signal he planned to cooperate as part of a plea deal.
Federal prosecutors say Fitzpatrick, for years, signed timesheets each month as documentation for work he performed for a councilman and for which he was paid directly from a councilman’s pocket. But the prosecutors say Fitzpatrick never actually performed the work nor got paid. Prosecutors say the councilman used the signed timesheets as a receipt for "ward services" to obtain $1,200 expense reimbursement from the city, the maximum monthly expense allowed under council rules.
Earlier reporting by former Cleveland.com reporter Mark Naymik, who is now with 3News, documented in 2018 and 2019 that Johnson had received more than $160,000 throughout 10 year with receipts signed by Fitzpatrick. Cleveland.com also reported that Johnson was once Fitzpatrick’s guardian.
The federal charges do not detail how much the councilman obtained through the scheme nor does it detail the relationship between Fitzpatrick and Johnson, although federal prosecutors say Fitzpatrick and Johnson have had a personal relationship for 40 years.
Subpoenas obtained last month by 3News show federal investigators asked for documents related to Johnson and his aide, Jamison. The subpoenas also seek information on Ozell Dobbins, a former city commissioner with close ties to Johnson.
Dobbins has not been charged.
Jamison and Dobbins also worked for the now shuttered nonprofit called the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corp., which received federal money from the city to revitalize neighborhoods in Johnson’s ward. Johnson used his discretion as a councilman to earmark federal money to the nonprofit, but the city eventually cut off the organization for failing to detail how it spent the money.
The latest indictment says Hopkins steered thousands of dollars in federal money to three people with ties to Johnson. One is identified as Johnson's son. Johnson was once guardian of the two others, the indictment says. The charges say payments were deposited in accounts controlled by Johnson.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Council President Kevin Kelley were made aware of the Johnson's reimbursements years ago. Kelley never asked Johnson for more detailed receipts but later blocked the payments to Johnson but allowed him to submit receipts for other expenses and still obtain the full monthly reimbursements. Reporting by Cleveland.com raised questions about those reimbursements in 2019.
Kelley removed Johnson from the chairmanship of the Municipal Services and Properties Committee. That committee oversees Cleveland’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Properties as well as some other matters. Councilman Kevin Bishop is the new chairman.
Council does not have the ability to remove Johnson from council but it can call on him to resign.
Jackson's administration was slow to scrutinize the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corp. handling of federal money. For months, the city allowed the non-profit to tap federal money even though it had missed a deadline to provide an audit of its books as a requirement of the funding. The city eventually cut off the non-profit.
Editor's Note: The below story aired on January 13, 2021