FBI bust reveals Cuyahoga landbank officials are grabbing homes for themselves

This is the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation that’s been operating as an organized crime gang to control homes James Rokakis and Gus Frangos started taking from property owners in 1998 that created blocks of abandoned streets and neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east side; and against 80 percent American Negro county residents. Ex-Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens promoted illegal dumping at the Arco illegal dump site behind residential homes in East Cleveland. Cleveland Heights officials are always shitting on East Cleveland.

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OH – American Negro residents of the state’s largest county have been complaining that the county treasurer’s foreclosure process was unconstitutional and rigged against them ever since greedy Greek American lawyers James Rokakis and Gus Frangos wrote state laws to let the treasurer’s office they led sell delinquent property tax bills to third party investors in 1997. 

There have been complaints that landbank employees and friends of Rokakis and Frangos have taken advantage of the public offices they hold and political relationships for their pick of the more than 100,000 homes taken from others since 2006 for pennies on the dollar or nothing.  That doesn’t include the more than 40,000 homes Rokakis used his third party tax lien law to foreclose on between 1998 and 2005.

Rokakis’ Western Reserve Conservancy released a report in July 2018 showing how 80 percent of the 140,000 were American Negro; and that more than 40 percent of people whose homes were taken were eastsiders in Cleveland, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Euclid, South Euclid and University Heights.

Attorney Kenneth Tyson appears to be an educated thief who operated without reading or in complete disregard to federal laws that identified how using his public employment to obtain and get repairs for foreclosed homes he paid little or nothing for or got for free was a crime. Lawyers continue to make the worst managers.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s (USDOJ) November 28, 2018 indictment of Kenneth Tyson appears not only to confirm the truth of the suspicions; but shockingly exposes a more extensive network of public officials using their public offices to steal and repair homes; and avoid paying property taxes.

The USDOJ’s indictment of Tyson indictment identifies several players by name and initial.  Demolition contractor Michael Riley is MR.  East Cleveland’s chief of staff Michael Smedley is MS.   Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens is CS.  Trapp Concrete & Masonry contractor Charles Trapp is CT.  Drain Guru owner Jason Strzala is JS.  The two contractors only appear to be named for the work they performed.

Tyson joined Rokakis and Frangos as a “pick” of Stephens who saw the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) law school graduate as highly-qualified for the job of project .  She and Dennis Roberts, who’d come through the county’s ranks as an-ex-Commissoner Peter Lawson Jones appointee, were the agency’s visible “American Negro faces.”

In 2016 Stephens helped Tyson write the business plan for CLRB Services as an offshoot of the Rokakis and Frangos-led landbank to handle asbestos remediation using government funds to compete with small business contractors.  Tyson’s landbank offshoot picked up the bulk of the remediation work despite complaints of unfair competition from a local government insider.

Ex-Cuyahoga County Treasurer James Rokakis’s government practices appear to “finally” be getting the federal attention he and Gus Frangos have long-deserved.

The indictment outlines a 2013 scheme where Tyson used his job as a county landbank project specialist to get Riley demolition work in exchange for $6700 in free home repairs at 1210 Castleton Road in Cleveland Heights. 

A civil complaint Ohio Attorney General Richard Michal DeWine filed againsr Riley details how Smedley and ex-East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton manipulated the city’s council to give two companies Riley controlled access to landbank property at 1705 Noble Road.  Instead of preparing the site for redevelopment as instructed by a resolution council passed, Riley demolished and sold off approximately $3 million in scrap steel structures General Electric had left as remnants of its lighting division.

Norton, without an ordinance of council, personally-delivered Riley title to the 1705 Noble Road property for $10 two months later.  The name of the Riley company Norton delivered the property’s title to was not the same as the one named in the resolution. 

It’s been alleged by Norton’s former girlfriend, Nikki, that he paid her $700 a week cash on a $40,000 a year annual salary in 2013 and 2014 after Riley started working in the city.

Michael Smedley has worked for both Gary Norton and Brandon King as the mayor’s chief of staff and co-conspirator or orchestrator of numerous crimes against the residents of East Cleveland since 2010.

After selling off the scrap Riley created an illegal construction and demolition debris landfill behind residential homes and near schools at the 1705 Noble Road site and sold space to dump demolished homes at $7 a ton.  That price was far below the $12 to $17 a ton at legal sites like Boyas Excavating.  Ohio EPA director Craig Butler negligently allowed the deadly construction and demolition debris landfill to operate under the “guise” of it being a recycling facility that never recycled.  Butler never tested the “fugitive dust” inspectors reported during 26 site visits.

It’s estimated Riley and others dumped more than 1000 landbank properties and household waste at the 5-story illegal landfill behind the homes of residents Smedley and Norton were supposed to protect.  Noble Road residents said Pete & Pete Container Service, Inc. violated state dumping laws daily by sending its trucks with household waste to the illegal site.  Sources say Riley could have earned anywhere from $4 million to over $10 million dumping demolished homes illegally with Norton and Smedley’s help.

Smedley and Norton avoided performing all the mayor’s legal duties to enforce the resolution that put limits on Riley’s use of the property.  They, instead, directed employees, including the city’s community development and building department, to cooperate with the criminally-minded contractor’s illegal enterprise. 

George Michael Riley is an environmental terrorist who is being investigated by federal agents for bribing elected and appointed public officials to receive demolition contracts he dumped illegally behind residential homes on Noble Road; and within 1000 feet of Collinwood High School and Apex Charter Elementary School.

Instead of causing Riley to be prosecuted, Norton and Smedley delivered him no bid federally-funded demolition contracts.   The same with Tyson.

The USDOJ’s indictment focuses mainly on the demolition contracts Riley was awarded through the landbank to benefit Tyson.  The language of the indictment makes it clear that Riley hired contractors like Trapp and Strzala to perform work on one of 5 homes Tyson picked up for next to nothing from foreclosure sales conducted by Sheriff Clifford PInkney.  

The indictment and Cuyahoga property records show Tyson constantly quit claiming each of 5 properties between his own name and that of his EPIC LIfestyle LLC while he sought property tax reductions on 3 of them from the Board of Revision his boss, James Rokakis,  influenced as the county’s treasurer.

What’s not clear in the indictment is if Smedley had East Cleveland’s community development director, Melran Leach, submit documents to pay Riley in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds for a demolition in East Cleveland to cover Tyson’s repairs to his Cleveland Heights home.  Leach did send pictures of a demolition project Riley did in East Cleveland to Stephens as proof he worked on a project.  [NOTE:  EJBNEWS’ publisher served as East Cleveland’s mayor, managed its community development department; and wrote the first $2.2 million NSP grant the agency received from HUD before leaving office in December 2009].

Kenneth Tyson got $6700 in free repairs to his 1210 Castleton Road property from George MIchael Riley’s demolition company. Riley got placed on a bid list for county landbank contracts.

Tyson didn’t stop enriching himself with what the FBI and HUD’s inspector general uncovered in relation to his job as a landbank employee.  After obtaining two foreclosed properties that were worth more than $220,000 combined in actual market value, Tyson filed a complaint with the county’s board of revision Rokakis once led and asked for a tax break.

His complaint sought the two properties valued at the $6700 price he paid for them from the sheriff’s sale.  As evidence he submitted a mortgage for $62,000 with a complaint that said he’d only paid $6700 for it. 

Instead of seeing the discrepancy in the two amounts, the board of revision taxed the two Tyson properties with a combined market rate value of $220,000 at a value of $6700 as he asked.

Tyson has filed another complaint to have his tax bill lowed for a foreclosed property he got free from HUD.  The hearing is scheduled for January 2019.

Five foreclosed closed homes landbank employee Kenneth Tyson got for next to nothing, or free, that were taken from others and sold for pennies on the dollars using an unconstitutional third party tax lien scheme.

What is highlighted are the conflicts-of-interest “extra money schemes” landbank envisioners Rokakis and Frangos created out of the misery caused by their racist-inspired and aggressive housing foreclosure practices with third party investors that began in 1998.

While the USDOJ’s indictment concentrates on the single property Riley repaired for Tyson, it doesn’t examine how he received the other four Cleveland Heights and University homes.  All came from sheriff sale foreclosures.  Two were given to Tyson for free out of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s inventory of foreclosed homes.  

Landbank activists  like Laura McShane have long criticized Rokakis and Frangos’ sale of a property owner’s delinquent tax bill to an investor have documented transactions between the landbank and their individual friends and associates.  Like Tyson, they were “given” foreclosed homes valued in excess of $100,000 and $200,000  that they moved into for next to nothing and then sold at its market rate value.

Rokakis sold the idea of selling off a property owner’s property tax bill to a third party investor at a discount in 1997 and 1998 after he was elected Cuyahoga County treasurer.  He claimed it was a way to streamline the forclosure process on “abandoned” properties.  What he and Frangos ended up doing until voters in 2010 voted for a charter change that restructured the county’s government and put him out of a job at the end of the year was kick over 100,000 mostly American Negros out of their “occupied” homes. 

Between the foreclosed home above 877 Nelaview Road in Cleveland Heights to the brick home at 1210 Castleton Road in the same city, Kenneth Tyson’s 5 foreclosed homes open another can of worms for federal investigators.

The vast majority were behind on mortgages that were rigged against them by lending institutions like Charter One Bank.   American Negros with solid jobs and good credit scores were automatically steered to subprime variable interest rate mortgages instead of prime fixed rate mortages.  When the subprime rates escalated it increased their monthly note and home owners living in their homes with families fell behind on their mortgage and twice-annual property tax payments.

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy Rokakis serves as vice president released its own report in November 2018 confirming that 80 percent of homeowners kicked out were American Negros; with over 40 percent coming from the east side of Cleveland and East Cleveland.

Despite knowledge that lenders like Charter One Bank had engaged in discriminatory lending practices that Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network had drawn attention to with Rev. Horace Sheffield of Detroit, Michigan, Rokakis and Frangos used the new “streamlined” foreclosure process to target homeowners with tax bills of less than $2000 for foreclosure.

What should have been seen by “attorney” Tyson as a pattern and practice of racial discrimination against “his people” by racist lenders, the treasurer, prosecuting attorney and the court of common pleas, became an opportunity for him to profit off and aid them with the help of co-conspirers Rokakis, Frangos and Cheryl Stephens.

Eric Jonathan Brewer

Cleveland's most influential journalist and East Cleveland's most successful mayor is an East Saint Louis, Illinois native whose father led the city's petition drive in 1969 to elect the first black mayor in 1971. Eric is an old-school investigative reporter whose 40-year body of editorial work has been demonstrably effective. No local journalist is feared or respected more.

Trained in newspaper publishing by the legendary Call & Post Publisher William Otis Walker in 1978 when it was the nation's 5th largest Black-owned publication, Eric has published and edited 13 local, regional and statewide publications across Ohio. Adding to his publishing and reporting resume is Eric's career in government. Eric served as the city's highest paid part-time Special Assistant to ex-Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White. He served as Chief of Staff to ex-East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor; and Chief of Communications to the late George James in his capacity as the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's first Black executive director. Eric was appointed to serve as a member of the state's Financial Planning & Supervision Commission to guide the East Cleveland school district out of fiscal emergency and $20 million deficit. Former U.S. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson told Eric in his D.C. office he was the only mayor in the nation simultaneously-managing a municipal block grant program. Eric wrote the city's $2.2 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant application. A HUD Inspector General audit of his management of the block grant program resulted in "zero" audit findings.

As a newspaper publisher, Eric has used his insider's detailed knowledge of government and his publications to lead the FBI and state prosecutors to investigations that resulted in criminal prosecutions of well-known elected officials in Ohio; and have helped realign Cleveland's political landscape with the defeat of candidates and issues he's exposed. Eric's stories led to the indictments of the late Governor George Voinovich's brother, Paul Voinovich of the V Group, and four associates. He asked the FBI to investigate the mayor he'd served as chief of staff for public corruption; and testified in three federal trials for the prosecution. He forced former Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj to admit her investigations of police killings were fraudulent; and to issue notices to local police that her investigators would control police killing investigations. Eric's current work has resulted in Cuyahoga County Judge John Russo accepting the criminal complaint he guided an activist to file against 24 civil rights-violating police officers in the city he once led for operating without valid peace officer credentials. USA Today reporters picked up on Eric's police credentials reporting from his social media page and made it national.

Eric is the author of of his first book, "Fight Police License Plate Spying," which examines the FBI and local police misuse of the National Crime Information Center criminal records history database. An accomplished trumpet player and singer whose friendship with Duke Fakir of the Four Tops resulted in his singing the show's closing song, "Can't Help Myself": Curtis Sliwa of New York's Guardian Angels counts Eric among his founding chapter leaders from the early 1980's role as an Ohio organizer of over 300 volunteer crime fighters in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, Ohio. For his work as a young man Eric was recognized by Cleveland's Urban League as it's 1983 Young Man of the Year.

Known in Cleveland for his encyclopedic knowledge of government and history, and intimately-connected with the region's players, every local major media outlet in Cleveland has picked up on one of Eric's stories since 1979. There is no mainstream newspaper, television or radio outlet in Cleveland that does not include an interview with Eric Jonathan Brewer in its archives over the past 40 years.