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Courts and Crime


Sentencing reveals new names, allegations in Cuyahoga corruption case
Cleveland council president and car deals get more scrutiny
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
Michael Forlani (L) with attorney Tom Kirsch in August
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The Cuyahoga County corruption case continues, and some new and notable names are coming up.

 Cleveland businessman Michael Forlani to be sentenced this week in U.S. district court in Akron, five months after he pleaded  guilty to 13 corruption-related charges.   Now, as WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports, he’s trying to convince Judge Sara Lioi that his crimes did not amount to much.  

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Michael Forlani doesn’t dispute that he did favors for former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and others in hopes of getting contracts.   But his lawyer is disputing a lot of the little $200 or $300 favors because, as the money adds up, his restitution and even his sentencing will add up.  

Forlani owned what was probably the largest electrical contractor in Cleveland – Doan Pyramid Electric, which once employed as many as 500 union electricians.

Yesterday, FBI agent Melissa Fortunato testified that Doan Pyramid was paying for discounted cars for Dimora.   From 2001 to 2008 Dimora bought or rented vehicles from Serpentini Chevrolet in Aurora. The agent said Serpentini gave the commissioner discounts that added up to over $38,000 but then turned around and billed the shortfall to Doan Pyramid.  

She testified that Serpentini also paid 19,500 dollars for a trade-in from former Port Authority member Robert Peto but sold the vehicle for $18,100 or $1,400 less.  The dealer ending up charging the difference to Doan Pyramid Electric's account.

Forlani's attorney, Tom Kirsh, argued that the FBI had no proof that Doan Pyramid actually paid those invoices. 

Martin Sweeney and the phone call
Later, prosecutors played a phone tap between Forlani and Cleveland developer John Ferchill, in which Forlani said he just donated $20,000 to City Council President Martin Sweeney’s "Council Leadership Fund."  He told Ferchill, “He needs to control council so we don’t have any problems.” And later, “Money gets you a lot votes when you need them.”

Prosecutors did not explain what, if any, deal was in the works during the April 2008 phone call.

Ferchill wrote a letter of support to the court on Forlani’s behalf. He hugged Forlani before the hearing and sat in the courtroom gallery most of the day, leaving right after prosecutors played the tape of him and Forlani. 

Today, prosecutors are planning to call two men who have already been convicted in the corruption scandal J. Kevin Kelley and Steve Pumper. Former City Council member Sabra Pierce Scott is also expected in court some time this week.
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