Council Member In Cleveland Charged With Theft Of Federal Program, Falsification Of Records

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Andrew Jose Contributor
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A federal grand jury charged a sitting Cleveland City Council member with violations related to federal program theft in a fifteen-count indictment Tuesday.

Law enforcement agents and the Cleveland division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested 74-year-old Kenneth Johnson earlier Tuesday morning, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Johnson, who was first elected to serve as a Ward 4 councilperson for the city of Cleveland in 1980, faces two counts of conspiring to commit federal program theft. He also faces six counts of federal program theft, five counts of aiding and assisting in preparing false tax returns, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of falsifying records in a federal investigation. (RELATED: Former Atlantic City Mayor Sentenced After Stealing Over $80,000 From Youth Basketball Program)

Two of Johnson’s associates, Garnell Jamison and John Hopkins, were also charged with similar charges in the indictment.

“These individuals are accused of developing and implementing schemes to defraud hardworking American federal taxpayers,” FBI Special Agent Eric B. Smith said. “Citizens should have confidence that their elected representatives are ethical and law abiding, not enriching themselves through graft and deceit. The FBI will continue to root out fraudsters that portray themselves as civil servants and hold them accountable.”

The three men conspired together between Jan. 2010 and Oct. 2018, according to the indictment, to commit federal program theft by making the city issue reimbursement checks from Cleveland’s general fund for maintenance expenses that were never performed.

Authorities say Robert Fitzpatrick, a former Cleveland Division of Recreation employee who had earlier plead guilty for involvement in the scheme, was approached in 2010 by Johnson and Jamison, who asked him to perform maintenance services throughout Ward 4. Those services allegedly included cutting grass and helping with snow removal. Fitzpatrick had performed those tasks for roughly six weeks, but was never paid by Johnson, according to the indictment.

After those six weeks, Fitzpatrick allegedly did not perform any services in Ward 4, but continued turning in timesheets, which Johnson approved and submitted with his “Council Member Expense Reports” to the city of Cleveland. Doing so, Johnson made it appear as if he paid Fitzpatrick regularly in cash, according to the indictment.

Johnson allegedly then requested and received the maximum reimbursement of $1,200 each month from the city — totaling about $127,000 between Jan. 2010 and Oct. 2018 — for the services that Fitzpatrick seemingly performed. 

The council member also faces charges for a conspiring to commit theft of federal program funds allotted to The Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation (BSSDC) through community block grants.

From Sep. 2013 through Jun. 2019, Johnson, Hopkins, and three other unnamed persons allegedly conspired together to commit federal program theft by fabricating fraudulent documents, like timesheets, causing BSSDC to issue checks to people who weren’t supposed to receive them.

Hopkins, then the BSSDC executive director, involved himself in the scheme by signing more than roughly $50,000 in BSSDC checks issued to third parties, including the three unnamed individuals, according to investigators.

Johnson and Jamison are further charged with falsifying Johnson’s individual income tax return (Form 1040) for the years 2014 through 2018 to hinder investigations into their activities.

“The allegations set forth in today’s indictment detail the exploitation of public office for personal gain,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan said. “Such conduct may bring about a temporary financial benefit for those involved, but it harms the public’s confidence in its elected officials. Where an elected official is alleged to have disregarded their oath and obligations, the public should remain confident that we will not disregard ours. Allegations of public corruption will be thoroughly investigated and brought before the court for a final resolution.”