CLEVELAND, OH – The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com’s editorial board has done a horrible job of endorsing candidates for elected office. When the newspaper’s endorsed candidates commit crimes in office or demonstrate incompetence its publishers, editors and writers just act like it didn’t happen. Ignore their ongoing offenses until law enforcement authorities step in.
Gary Alexander Norton, Jr. is the latest Plain Dealer endorsed political candidate to be convicted of crimes he didn’t get caught committing until he was out of elected office. Norton showed up at East Cleveland city hall after voters recalled him in 2016 and offered to demolish up to 10 homes for free. After leaving city hall he became an UBER driver. What council didn’t know about Norton’s overly-generous offer was that it wasn’t true.
The ex-mayor ended up with a demolition contract he was given by ex-police chief secretary Vanessa Veals after she signed community development director Melran Leach’s name to it. Both subsequently received a visit from and ended up being arrested by FBI agents after being told to keep their mouths shut about the visits. Instead of keeping their mouths shut Norton discussed it with Veal and she discussed it with another employee.
Veal tried to destroy Norton’s email not knowing the data is stored permanently on her email service’s servers. When the woman Norton was alleged to have been caught with in an uncompromising position Forest Hill Park was confronted by FBI agents about their conversations they each lied.
Norton and Veals’ decisions to run their mouths resulted in federal agents aborting the investigation and holding them accountable for the obstruction. Both were indicted for lying to FBI agents on November 21, 2019. Norton entered a guilty plea in December 2020. He was sentenced to one year’s probation for the felony on May 13, 2021.
According to Norton’s Thompson, Hines & Flory lawyer, John Mitchell, East Cleveland’s disgraced and recalled ex-mayor can never serve in elected office again. He can’t vote and he’s already been globally discredited with all the negative print, broadcast and online references to his crimes in office. His attorney said the public won’t even hear from him as Mitchell pleaded for extreme leniency to help his allegedly contrite client. Norton selected the same law firm that represents Forest City Enterprises. Mitchell wrote the following about his client.
“Gary is a 49-year old, non-violent, first-time felon that no person could possibly claim to be a threat to society. The citizens of the United States, and Cleveland, Ohio, in particular, will not be “less safe” if Gary receives a humane sentence. This is particularly true because of the facts of this case, because the circumstances leading to Gary’s conviction will never reoccur. He is not under any investigation. He will never hold public office again. In short, by virtue of this conviction and his voluntary choice to leave the political arena, this Court should recognize that this will be the only time it ever sees Gary Norton.”
Mitchell’s “help a brutha out” pleading identified the wrong city as the one Norton harmed by referencing Cleveland instead of East Cleveland as being “less safe” from his presence on the streets. In other sections of the document Mitchell submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster, he appears to ignore crimes that Norton and his wife committed while holding public offices and employment.
Shalom Norton was a Cleveland school principal when she stole over $10,000 from the treasury of the principals association and delivered a portion of it as gifts to Gary and their children. The Norton’s three daughters now have two parents with criminal records. Shalom Lawrence-Norton and Gary are now divorced.
For each of the six years he served East Cleveland as mayor, local and state records on file with the office of Ohio’s Auditor of State show him annually engaging in dereliction of duty and obstructing the city’s official business by recklessly exceeding the budget council approved. It took him 33 months to return the city to fiscal emergency after racking up a debt of nearly $11 million. Norton’s misspending caused serious harm to the city’s residents when he was unable to deliver an EMS vehicle that would transport them to hospitals during life-threatening emergencies.
Even now the residents of East Cleveland still struggle with the aftermath of the illegal construction and demolition debris landfill he and the city council Brandon King and Thomas Wheeler presided over allowed George Michael Riley to build. Riley is currently in trial and Norton’s name has figured prominently in how he and Christine Beynon acquired the former site General Electric used to manufacture lights at 1740 Noble Road. Instead of ensuring that Riley and Beynond readied the property for redevelopment as the ordinance council enacted required. Norton cut a side deal with Riley and delivered him title to the property without council approval.
According to a woman named Nikki, who claimed that she and Norton shared a child, the former mayor gave her $700 a week in cash she claimed he was receiving from Riley. Norton’s legal salary as mayor was $40,000 annually.
Norton and Delos Cosgrove further conspired to close Huron Hospital in violation of an ordinance Dr. Joy Jordan led council to enact that instructed the mayor not to even have a meeting with Cleveland Clinic about the closure. Norton had zero legal authority to sign the contract the two “teams” of lawyers created.
This information was also concealed from East Cleveland residents and greater Cleveland by the Plain Dealer and cleveland.com since the hospital’s board included their publisher. Terrence CZ Egger. In that deal Cosgrove delivered $8 million to an account Norton had set up without council’s knowledge or authority to receive it. Council’s under Ohio law receive and appropriate all of a municipal corporation’s funds. The agreement signed by this devil-ish duo claimed it was being binding whether council agreed or not. Not so under any Ohio law.
Norton told Plain Dealer reporter Chris Feran he would spend the money to eliminate the debt he’d created by exceeding the budget council approved. This was in 2011. Norton returned East Cleveland to fiscal emergency 33 months after taking office after exceeding budgets approved by council by more than $11 million. Residents of the city never saw a dime of the money spent on improving the city. Feran didn’t return with a Plain Dealer or cleveland.con story that Norton had lied.
The sentencing memorandum Mitchell submitted to Polster acknowledges that as far as his future, Norton’s name is now trash. He’s lucky, according to Mitchell, to be employed as a used car salesman for Rick Case at 49 years of age. He didn’t even want Norton fined.
“Regardless of this Court’s sentence, Gary has already been and continues to be punished for his offense. As the result of this investigation and his conviction, Gary has gone from being a highly respected member of this community and his neighborhood to a convicted felon. He will now be unable to exercise certain civil rights, such as the right to vote. Moreover, this case has garnered significant negative publicity for Gary in news articles published in print and online that will forever tar him as a felon. For those who do not know him, he will now be best known for this conviction rather than his successes in life.”
In private conversations with people with both know, Norton has shared that his life was ruined by this writer. In all the acts described above this writer was nowhere within Norton’s inner-circle as an advisor. The one piece of advice he got from me “officially” came in the form of my decision to veto a self-dealing ordinance he’d asked council to approve in 2009 during a “special meeting” I’d called as mayor.
His ordinance was not on the agenda and Norton knew it wouldn’t pass with a new council. What he wanted was to add $45,000 to $65,000 to the salary of the director of public safety and assume the title and the wages. I vetoed it as a violation of the state’s open meetings laws. Norton and the idiots on council at the time overturned it.
Norton was warned that if he started off stealing he wouldn’t stop. I repeatedly warned him, editorially, to consider his family. Today his wife’s left him and their three daughters have a “mommy and daddy” with criminal histories as thieves and felons they’re stuck with having to explain to all their friends. I’ve always said people will fuck up the perfectly good children God gives them to lead. No bad children. Just bad parents.
They were so young when voters chose Norton over me on September 29, 2009, six days after the day he disseminated pictures stolen from my personal computer to the city’s electorate the same day my father died, they don’t even remember me. Mitchell claimed in Norton’s sentencing memorandum that his client now feels the pressure of the media that has deterred him forever from wanting to hold another elected office again.
What Mitchell shared that I know as a journalist and newspaper publisher in this town since 1978 is that honest public attention can put the fear of God in an elected or appointed public official who knows accountability comes after their misdeeds in office are publicly-exposed and proven. Plain Dealer reporters “promoted” Norton instead of covering him. So did the other media. Reporters ignored that council had legitimate issues with their endorsed candidate’s failure to abide by his oath of office.
Had the Plain Dealer’s publisher, Egger, not possessed an economic and personal interest in closing Huron Hospital as a board member, the news man in him should have stepped down with a warning to his Cleveland Clinic colleagues that he was going public with Cosgrove’s illegal deal with Norton. Dr. Joy Jordan, Chantelle Lewis (Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill’s Lt. Governor running mate), Nathaniel Martin, Barbara Thomas and Mansell Baker had enacted legislation instructing Norton not to meet with Cleveland Clinic officials about closing Huron Hospital. So the contract Cosgrove and Norton signed was a sham and Egger knew it.
Had Plain Dealer and cleveland.com writers reported the truth instead of concealing vital facts from East Cleveland residents and higher authorities an intervention could have prevented the single-most significant act that led to the city’s financial demise. 1100 workers. 300 of them – at least – residing in the surrounding apartments a walking distance from work. $1.3 million in annual income tax revenue. East Cleveland’s #1 employers. An asset left from the legacy of John D. Rockefeller whose destruction appears to have been intentional. In no paragraph or sentence of her June 2011 story about the deal Cosgrove and Norton entered to close Huron Hospital did cleveland.com writer Ellen Kleinerman report that East Cleveland city council enacted legislation instructing the mayor he had no authority to discuss the hospital’s closing or to sign any contracts.
Because of Huron Hospital’s emergency room, the average East Cleveland or nearby Cleveland Heights resident had a four minute drive to health care. The same for nearby Cleveland residents at East Cleveland’s borders. The physicians Dr. Gus Kious assembled at Huron Hospital’s emergency room had become life-saving specialists who were increasing the survival and improval rate of gunshot victims. In East Cleveland was the state’s #1 gunshot wound trauma center. The homicide rate is higher because gunshot wound victims are bleeding out while waiting for treatment. Physicians must be placed on EMS squads. On the scene trauma specialists will drive down the homicide rate.
Dr. Kious and I were discussing using section 749.01 of the Revised Code of Ohio to create a municipal hospital board that would provide free healthcare to the city’s residents and workers. It’s the 67 year old state law that lets city councils tax property owners $1 per $1000 to fund a free municipal hospital like Cleveland had until 1957.
Huron Hospital also had a nursing school that taught skills as a licensed practical nurse and as a nursing assistant. I invested federal block grant training money in teaching the women who wanted to be nurses assistants how to be licensed practical nurses. More money for them and their families.
In the sentencing memorandum, Mitchell, Norton’s attorney, glossed over his 12 years in office between council and mayor. That experience to Mitchell appears to have been the equivalent to a hypen on a headstone at a gravesight identifying the buried person’s dates of birth and death. Yeah. They had a life but let’s not talk about it.
Polster should have heard from the residents of East Cleveland as the parties harmed by Norton’s actions. They voted him out of office because of his incompetence and stealing in 2016 since the county prosecutor and state auditor refused to act. And after intentionally removing him from office Norton kept on stealing from East Cleveland voters through the network of corrupt workers and contractors loyal to him instead of the oaths of office he’d failed in his duties as mayor to administer to them. That’s how the FBI got him.
That’s not the story Polster heard and it’s the travesty in his sentence. Lying to the FBI wasn’t Norton’s first crime. It wasn’t the only crime he committed that got him arrested and before the federal judge. It was simply the one crime in a long list of crimes he committed while in and out of public office that someone finally said “enough.”