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A Witch Hunt With No Witches 

In David Bentkowski's world, everyone is wrong but him

At a recent Seven Hills caucus meeting on November 19, former mayor and current councilman-at-large David Bentkowski made an allegation, which is what David Bentkowski does for a living.

This time it surrounded the Seven Hills Home Day Committee and $4,000 that he says is missing.

According to committee chairman and fellow councilman Matt Trafis, that is patently untrue. According to Home Day Committee treasurer Patricia Studeny, the money has been sitting safely tucked away in a bank account.

Undeterred, Bentkowski says he has referred the matter to the FBI and the Ohio Ethics Commission, which is another thing that he does for a living — refer an unending string of unsubstantiated allegations to authorities.

He returned to council on November 26 with another unloaded, misguided grenade: Matt Trafis was violating ethics law by voting on matter that concerned him.

Again, Bentkowski offered no proof, which is also something he does for a living, despite his training as a lawyer.

"Whenever David Bentkowski is experiencing an onslaught of negative press, he tries to change the story to someone else, and normally, I'm the target," says Trafis. "His claims are ridiculous. I'd wish he'd focus on issues that really matter to Seven Hills. I personally feel like a lot of his antics are a distraction to the challenges that are facing the city."

The negative press Trafis is referencing is twofold: Bentkowski was fired on November 1 from a labor relations post at the Ohio Lottery Commission, a position he held for barely a year. And, coincidentally, a few weeks prior, Bentkowski once again found himself in the headlines after a nearly 600-page police file was made public.

Beginning in 2009, during his second term at Seven Hills' top post, the file details Bentkowski's pursuit of criminal charges against anonymous commenters on Cleveland.com's Seven Hills forum. Though the following investigation, which Bentkowski personally directed and instructed the police chief and Law Director to pursue, came up empty, Bentkowski hasn't backed done from his allegations.

Which are — you guessed it — unsubstantiated.

The unfiltered and unvarnished Bentkowski displayed in emails and interviews in the file is consistent with his past behavior: a bully and a thin-skinned politician, consumed and paranoid.

It's any wonder that Seven Hills keeps electing a guy who very well might have the political IQ of a piece of Quiznos lettuce.

That was a line Scene once used to describe Bentkowski in one of multiple stories about the gaffes, hilarious missteps, and bombastic self-promotion that defined Bentkowski's two terms as part-time Mayor and author of a self-published book that, among other topics, covered the exact measurements of his penis — he's not an "abnormal freak," just so you know -— and his other full-time passion: taking pictures with celebrities.

It's also a line, among others, that Bentkowski identified in a lawsuit against Scene as evidence of defamation. (A federal judge ruled in favor of Scene.)

The lawsuits will probably be flying again soon.

***

As laid out in the 560-page file, Bentkowski was not only obsessed with the media's portrayal of him, but also the public's.

Emails over two years to Seven Hills Police Chief Gary Durkin, Detective Mike Salloum, Law Director Richard Pignatiello, and Prosecutor Pat DiChiro, along with the original 2009 police report, show a part-time mayor making $14,000 a year , and a man who worked his own hours to monitor the Seven Hills forum on Cleveland.com, reporting any negative comment to moderators.

He sought to have the offenders, who he believed to be either a group of citizens who had started a community newspaper or fellow councilman Matt Trafis, charged with Menacing by Stalking.

The full file is cumbersome and repetitive, much like Bentkowski himself. Even an annotated version would fill an entire paper. A few highlights, however, are all one needs to grasp Bentkowski's personal mission.

When Detective Lieutenant Salloum took the original police report and conducted a follow-up interview with Bentkowski on October 19, 2009, he wrote:

"Bentkowski feels that because of the recent increase in the amount of posts [on the forum] that he is in eminent [sic] danger and that this person is demonstrating a bizarre, sick and dangerous obsession with him. Bentkowski thinks that this person is losing psychological control and desires to cause harm to him and his property"

And:

"Bentkowski stated that for the last several weeks he has been unable to sleep because has to proactively check the forum and report inappropriate posts in order to mitigate their damage. Bentkowski went on to state that the posts are interfering with the execution of his duties as mayor."

"Bentkowski stated that the only way to keep an eye on the unknown subject is to constantly monitor the post to prepare for an onslaught of new damaging posts or to thwart a possible physical attack against himself or his property. Benkowski has altered his schedule in order to be home more often to check the forums and mitigate the damage."

Subpoenas were sent to Cleveland.com to retrieve the IP addresses of deleted posts. Cleveland.com's lawyer responded that the company does not keep that information once posts have been deleted. But Bentkowski continued to contact Cleveland.com editor-in-chief Denise Polverine to request comments be deleted, something she acquiesced to, even in cases where the offending comments didn't violate Cleveland.com's user agreement. (Polverine declined to comment when contacted by Scene.)

Salloum wrote: "Polverine explained that Bentkowski and/or someone on his behalf have flagged numerous comments and that Cleveland.com has removed several of these posts. Polverine stated that they have removed other posts that were flagged by Bentkowski that did not necessarily violate the user agreement, but may have been inappropriate."

"Polverine seems to think Bentkowski wants any bad thing about him removed. Polverine stated that it is unusual for her to experience this much contact with a Mayor concerned about the content on the forum."

"None of them contained any criminally threatening or harassing statements."

In a 27-page memo from 2011 to top department heads in Seven Hills, Bentkowski, who is a lawyer, laid out the case once again, but with a display of lesser law acumen than one would expect from a freshman in an after-school mock trial club.

His evidence consists of nothing but posts from Cleveland.com posts littered with the usual criticisms of Bentkowski's service as mayor.

Bentkowski then goes on to play amateur psychologist: "I could best describe this person as having 'wild mood swings,'" he writes. "There have been times we have left the house for a few hours and have come home to dozens of posts."

"I believe this poster to have disturbed sexual fantasy, consumption and fetish about me and find their strikes out against me to be manifestations of their repressed failures/desires," he continues. "I suspect they are a classic 'love me daddy' situation where they were raised by a loveless father that they desperately sought to impress for attention."

Later in October 2011, Bentkowski followed up with another email to the same group of folks besieged by his previous pointless entreaties.

"Yesterday, my cyberstalker returned to Cleveland.com with a series of off-color and offensive posts. I have endured years of abuse and have been less than wowed by your efforts to stop this," he wrote. "Now that I am a private citizen, I fully expect you to pursue these matters much more vigorously. I am entitled to the same level of protection that other citizens are and quite frankly, it is embarrassing that this person has been able to 'outmaneuver' you for so long."

In November, he returned again, displeased by the silence on the other end.

"I have had it. Today, more than ever, and after years of trusting in you to properly investigate my situation, I am still being harassed and cyberstalked more aggressively than ever," he wrote. "All I know is that your performance so far — ALL OF YOU -— has been a disgusting joke and on a personal note it makes me want to vomit because I have worked so hard for the city and for all of you over the years. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I expect to hear back from someone with a game plan or reports on your efforts quickly."

Later that month, Bentkowski had still not received a reply.

"Several weeks ago, I sent you yet another letter expressing my concerns over your handling of matters impacting my daily life. I have yet to hear from any of you."

Finally, in March of this year, Assistant Law Director and Prosecutor Patrick Dichiro wrote a memo to Lt. Salloum.

"I left this investigation open for 2 years to see if anything else developed. After all these years, I have found no facts that would lead me to change my mind from my initial thoughts. In addition, as you know, I have even spoken with an expert in the field of cyber crimes as well as another local Prosecutor. All in all, I believe your initial ruling is correct and there is no crime in this matter that violates Ohio Law."

***

David Bentkowski has more allegations up his sleeve.

He still believes, as he's reported — allegedly — to the FBI, that the comments on Cleveland.com constituted Menacing by Stalking. And the public only knows the half of it.

"It's easy to say Bentkowski doesn't like people picking on him, but the posts you saw were just a portion of it," he says. "There were threatening and offensive posts about my parents, about my wife, and then eventually, the posts started about city employees and city business. They said we're just here to work. This is ruining our reputation. What are you, mayor, going to do about it?"

He claims every offending post was deleted from existence.

As for why the police and the rest of the Seven Hills authorities never found further evidence or the real identities of the anonymous commenters, Bentkowski has a theory.

"Maybe they were hoping it would blow away, saying gee, it may involve some of our political friends," he says. "It's the very reason I didn't want them to handle it. I knew I wasn't going to get a fair shake."

The Ohio Lottery Commission doesn't comment on personnel matters, and declined further statement on Bentkowski's employment. Bentkowski contends that he was a model employee, and that he was only dismissed after informing his supervisors that he had reported possible crimes to the authorities.

"On October 11, 2012, I completed my first year of service at the Lottery. Any discussions I had with my supervisor were positive and included indices of future tasks and assignments," he wrote in an email. "At no point was there any mention made that my job was in jeopardy. On October 21, I advised my supervisor that I had reported possible crimes to several law enforcement agencies. "

On November 13, shortly after a Plain Dealer story about the 560-page Seven Hills police file was published, he was fired.

"The crimes I have reported are beyond the scope of any crimes that have been discussed in any local news article," he said in an email, though he declined to elaborate and insisted his is not a story worth telling the public. He just wants to be left alone, you see.

As he's made plainly clear, the public life is not for him. A swift sendoff into private obscurity is the best solution, and maybe one day the voters of Seven Hills will see that.

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