City worker who helped convict Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson in bribery scheme spared jail time

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

US District Judge John Adams sentenced Robert Fitzpatrick to three years probation. Fitzpatrick cooperated with the FBI’s investigation of Johnson, the man who took Fitzpatrick under his wing as a child to use as a pawn for illegal enrichment as an adult.

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

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

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

Fitzpatrick told Adams he took responsibility for his actions and said Johnson “manipulated me, threatened me and tried to scare me” to help him pocket taxpayer money.

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

Fitzpatrick remained emotionless in the courtroom as Adams delivered his sentence. He burst 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 him each shook hands with Fitzpatrick. He declined to comment.

“We are satisfied with the result,” said his lawyer, Carlos Johnson.

The charges that brought down one of Cleveland City Council’s longest-serving members stem from the 2018 work of columnist Mark Naymik, who uncovered that Kenneth Johnson had filed years of bogus council expense forms municipal. Johnson had indicated that he regularly pays Fitzpatrick $1,200 a month for “child care.”

Fitzpatrick, who worked as a regional director for the parks and recreation department, submitted timesheets showing he did the work monthly. Johnson approved them, then requested reimbursement from the city’s discretionary fund. The program ran from 2010 to the fall of 2018, when Naymik’s columns first appeared, and earned Johnson $127,200 in refunds.

Fitzpatrick was the first person charged in the FBI’s investigation of the once-iconic councilman who represented the city’s Buckeye-Shaker ward for four decades. Fitzpatrick was also the first to speak 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 multiple charges of stealing government money, underpaying his taxes and keeping his adopted sons on the Buckeye-Shaker Community Development Corp. payroll, was sentenced in October to six years in federal prison.

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

Hopkins pleaded guilty to mishandling federal funds and cooperated with the investigation. Adams previously sentenced him to three months in federal prison and three months house arrest.

Federal sentencing guidelines provided that Fitzpatrick would receive a sentence ranging from 10 to 16 months in federal prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Gould instead asked Adams to accept a probationary period less than a maximum of three months in prison, citing substantial cooperation from Fitzpatrick that helped nab Johnson.

Fitzpatrick had a difficult childhood and came to live with Johnson when he was 14. Johnson had regularly taken in young people from the poor neighborhood and called them his sons.

Gould said Johnson may have used his relationship with Fitzpatrick to manipulate him into participating in the scheme. He also said 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 city jobs—and therefore their livelihoods—to Johnson.

” Who would have believed it ? Adams asked. “To whom would he have turned?

Adams said the Council’s use of discretionary funds allows members to funnel money to their favorite nonprofits “without any oversight or accountability and the scheme likely would have been uncovered without vigorous reporting.

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

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