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Courts and Crime


Cleveland businessman's sentence rests with the question of bribes vs. favors
Michael Forlani's sentencing hearing concludes, but judge holds off on decision
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
Michael Forlani in brown jacket with attorney Daniel Webb outside federal courthouse in Akron.
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Cleveland businessman Michael Forlani was back in federal court today for a sentencing hearing. For the first time, Judge Sara Lioi was asking whether some so-called bribes were really crimes at all. WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports.

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Michael Forlani has pleaded guilty to 13 charges of corruption, and now he and the government are arguing over how much his crimes cost the community. If Forlani can convince the judge it is less than $200,000, his sentence could be reduced by as much as two years.

The government is arguing that work that Forlani’s company did on the homes of executives at the Cleveland office of Philips Medical adds to that the community’s loss. But Judge Lioi noted that Philips is a private company and companies do favors for their clients all the time. She asked, “Can’t a business pay for a meal for a client in hopes of getting more business?”

U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon replied, “That’s a commercial bribe. Philips is a publicly traded international company. These people have shareholders.”

But Defense attorney Tom Kirsch argued, “Small businesses can entertain small businesses but not large businesses? That makes no sense.”

Another argument came up over campaign contributions.
Michael Forlani raised $3,600 for Cleveland City Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott.  Forlani’s lawyers argued that every campaign contribution is aimed at getting something, so there was nothing unusual about Forlani’s. And they said Scott was already supporting Forlani’s VA-hospital project because it was in her ward. The two sides argued over the difference between an explicit bribe and an expressed bribe.  

At one point, they even argued over the meaning of a comma versus a semi-colon in passages of the federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Lioi will issue her sentence March 8th. 

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