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City worker who helped convicted Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson in corruption scheme spared prison time

by May 11, 2022Local News

AKRON, Ohio — A federal judge on Tuesday spared a former city of Cleveland employee from prison for his role in helping then-Councilman Kenneth Johnson carry out a long-running corruption scheme.

U.S. District Judge John Adams sentenced Robert Fitzpatrick to three years of probation. Fitzpatrick cooperated with the FBI investigation into Johnson, the man who took Fitzpatrick under his wing as a child only to use him as a pawn to illegally enrich himself as an adult.

Fitzpatrick, 55, will spend the first six months of the sentence on house arrest.

Adams said he usually doles out prison sentences to defendants who engage in corruption to send a message, citing what he called a “culture of corruption” that has touched nearly every branch of government in Cuyahoga County.

He said he made an exception for Fitzpatrick based on his cooperation with investigators and his personal history with Johnson, who took Fitzpatrick in to live with him as a teenager and then manipulated him to fall in line with the corruption scheme.

Fitzpatrick told Adams that he took responsibility for his actions and said Johnson “manipulated me, threatened me and was trying to scare me” into helping him pocket taxpayer money.

“I trusted this guy, and he was doing all this lying to me,” Fitzpatrick said. “I never should have trusted him.”

Fitzpatrick remained emotionless in the courtroom as Adams handed down his sentence. He broke out into tears in the hallway outside the courtroom after the hearing. Three federal agents who investigated the case and the two assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted it each shook Fitzpatrick’s hand. He declined to comment.

“We’re happy with the outcome,” his attorney, Carlos Johnson, said.

The charges that brought down one of Cleveland City Council’s longest serving members stemmed from the work in 2018 by then-cleveland.com columnist Mark Naymik, who found that Kenneth Johnson filed years of City Council bogus expense forms. Johnson had indicated he routinely paid Fitzpatrick $1,200 a month for “ward services.”

Fitzpatrick, who worked as a regional manager of the parks and recreation department, submitted time sheets that said he performed the work each month. Johnson approved them, then sought reimbursement from the city’s discretionary fund. The scheme ran from 2010 through the fall of 2018, when Naymik’s columns first appeared, and netted Johnson $127,200 in reimbursements.

Fitzpatrick was the first person charged in the FBI’s investigation into the once-iconic councilman who represented the city’s Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood for four decades. Fitzpatrick was also the first to take the stand at Johnson’s federal trial last year. He had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge early in the case.

Johnson, who was convicted last summer of several charges for stealing government money, underpaying his taxes and keeping his adopted sons on the payroll of the Buckeye-Shaker Community Development Corp., was sentenced in October to six years in federal prison.

John Hopkins, the former president of the neighborhood agency, and Garnell Jamison, an aide to Johnson, were also charged. The same jury that convicted Johnson found Jamison guilty in the schemes. Adams sentenced him to five years in prison.

Hopkins pleaded guilty to mismanaging federal funds and cooperated with the investigation. Adams previously sentenced him to three months in federal prison and three months of home confinement.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for Fitzpatrick to receive a sentence ranging from 10-16 months in federal prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Gould instead asked Adams to accept a lower range of probation to a maximum of three months in prison, citing Fitzpatrick’s substantial cooperation that helped nab Johnson.

Fitzpatrick had a difficult childhood and came to live with Johnson when he was 14. Johnson had routinely taken in youths from the impoverished neighborhood and referred to them as his sons.

Gould said that Johnson was able to use his relationship with Fitzpatrick to manipulate him into participating in the scheme. He also said that Fitzpatrick knew what he was doing was illegal and should have come forward sooner to help stop the illicit scheme.

Adams interrupted Gould to point out that Johnson was “a powerful Council member” and that Fitzpatrick, his wife and two of his children owed their employment with the city — and therefore their livelihoods — to Johnson.

“Who would have believed him?” Adams asked. “Who would he have turned to?”

Adams said that Council’s use of discretionary funds allows members to funnel money to their favorite non-profit organizations “without any oversight or accountability and that the scheme would likely have gone uncovered if not for vigorous news reporting.

“I think, in many ways, it’s a recipe for corruption,” Adams said.

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