CLEVELAND - Cuyahoga County officials have filed a lawsuit alleging taxpayers were defrauded in the purchase of the Ameritrust Complex.
The complex was purchased after county commissioners voted in 2005 to buy property located at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue for $22 million. It was supposed to house the new county administration building but plans were scrapped two years later after the county spend another $10 million to remove asbestos.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, 10 defendants, including the son of former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo are named as participating in the fraud.
Vincent Russo, who served 18 months on bribery charges in 2010 associated with contracts involving the Maple Heights School System, allegedly helped arrange parts of the deal and was paid $4,000 to provide "certain government relations and similar consulting services".
Included in the lawsuit is Great Lakes Corporate Real Estate Partners, LLC--a business entity that allegedly helped broker the deal.
The lawsuit alleges that Great Lakes was "paid $3 million for approximately 5 months work" and claims "but for the corruption in its dealing with Cuyahoga County, Great Lakes would not have been selected and would have been paid less".
In addition, the lawsuit claims that "three of the people who either owned companies or who personally worked with Great Lakes and to whom Great Lakes paid over $500,000 for government relations works" also have been indicted and pled guilty on previous corruption charges related to the federal probe into corruption in Cuyahoga County.
In a news conference, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald said today's lawsuit "marks the final chapter" in terms of making things "whole" for taxpayers following the extensive federal probe involving county corruption.
Fitzgerald says the lawsuit questions "huge portions of the contract that involved government relations".
"Whether or not they are true experts in government relations is a question," said Fitzgerald.
"If you look at their backgrounds and expertise, I don't consider that to be legitimate government relations."
The county unloaded the Ameritrust Complex in February, 2013 for $27 million.